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Important skills in the digital age

You might have caught this a few days ago, in a blog post at the NYT:

“David Dalrymple, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,thinks human memory will no longer be the key repository of knowledge, and focus will supersede erudition. Quote:

Before the Internet, most professional occupations required a large body of knowledge, accumulated over years or even decades of experience. But now, anyone with good critical thinking skills and the ability to focus on the important information can retrieve it on demand from the Internet, rather than her own memory. On the other hand, those with wandering minds, who might once have been able to focus by isolating themselves with their work, now often cannot work without the Internet, which simultaneously furnishes a panoply of unrelated information — whether about their friends’ doings, celebrity news, limericks, or millions of other sources of distraction. The bottom line is that how well an employee can focus might now be more important than how knowledgeable he is. Knowledge was once an internal property of a person, and focus on the task at hand could be imposed externally, but with the Internet, knowledge can be supplied externally, but focus must be forced internally.”

Originally I bookmarked this because I thought it was pretty insightful, but then later as I was trying to explain it to my wife, I realised it sounded like absolute bollocks coming out of my mouth. I don’t disagree that focus is an important skill, but to raise the ability focus and filter above other skills such as the ability to make non-linear connections or put things together in new ways feels a bit short-sighted to me.

Filtering and focusing are things that machines will inevitably be better at than humans so aren’t the important skills in the digital age things that make us more human, not more like machines? What do you think?

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