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Digital Fluency in the Age of Acceleration

February 26, 2020

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Sue Prettyman

Senior Advisor KML
Catholic Relief Services

Do you ever feel like you’re standing still while the technology train is speeding by? The volume and velocity of information is multiplying exponentially as is the growth in new and improved technology[1]. In 2017, IBM released a study estimating that 90% of all the data in the world had been created in the past two years. In 

2020, it’s estimated that 1.7MB of data will be created every second for every person on earth[2]. You’re probably wondering, how do I keep up and is it even worth trying?

src=https://www.humentum.org/sites/default/files/Picture8_0.pngSecurity robot drowns in fountain
Well, we’re not beat yet. The answer to all this new technology is remembering who we are as human beings and tapping into our unique powers. This picture of a drowned security robot became a meme a couple years ago in DC. Hmmm, I guess he didn’t see that coming. Left me wondering – will robot-tipping become the new cow-tipping?

A recent Nielsen study shows that when it comes to digital literacy, we’re further behind than we think we are.  And, we think we know more than we do which prevents us from learning and mastering the key skills that would make us more productive and intuitive in our jobs. But take heart. You’re smarter than you think you are – even if you don’t know as much as you think you do.

Recognizing this gap, Tracy van der Schyff, Microsoft MVP and popular O365 blogger, starts her training sessions by teaching the top 10 Windows shortcuts to her students. Here’s a little test.  When you’re surfing the web, do you spend countless seconds scrolling to the top of the page muttering to yourself that you wish they would put a button at the bottom of the page that says “Top” that you could just click on without scrolling miles to get there? Ever wonder what that “Home” button is for on your laptop? Try it – it will make your day. Or, do you close all your windows to navigate back to your desktop rather than just selecting the Windows key and typing D?  Sounds silly but mastering a few keyboard shortcuts will save you several minutes a day – and compounded by your busy calendar – you might at least find time for a coffee break in all those wasted minutes. Did you know that every work interruption costs you 23 minutes of productive time? That’s how long it takes you to get back on task while that technology train keeps accelerating by you.

So, you say – ok, I get it. But how do I catch up? How do I keep pace with new technology? And, how do I drink from the proverbial firehose that is information today? Well, you can’t except for one sip at a time.  The trick is to find the sips and functions that will increase your skills and improve your productivity. But this will require a shift in mindset. And in order to learn, mindset is everything.  In the age of acceleration, you’ve got to own your own professional growth and development and learn how to accelerate your own learning rather than sipping around the edges or waiting for your manager to set up an all-day instructor-led training session.

Here are a few tips for catching that train that tap into your super powers.  That’s right. Human beings have super powers and we need to be reminded about them in the advent of AI, bots, and robots. As a matter of fact, humans possess amazing abilities that robots can only dream of – if only they could. Here are just a few:

  • We possess unrivaled dexterity – science editor and physicist Richard Webb paints the picture perfectly:  A stack of dirty dishes wobbles precariously as you balance another saucepan at its summit. For a second, it looks like the whole stack will come down. But it doesn’t. Swiftly, instinctively, you save it. Congratulations – not just on another domestic src=https://www.humentum.org/sites/default/files/Picture7_0.pngdisaster averted, but also on showing a peculiarly human genius. No other species can perform complex, real-time calculations of their physical environment and generate specific, actionable predictions quite like the ones that rescued your crockery. (New Scientist, Super You)
  • We can see 1 million+ colors at 576 pixels (the best cameras can capture only 41 pixels) – how’s that for high definition vision?
  • We possess human consciousness – no one in the science realm has ever been able to explain it.
  • We have imagination, creativity, and will – we can conceive of and act on our ideas.
  • We can read people’s minds and do it all the time. We have the power to predict what other people are thinking. 
  • We are better endurance runners than any other animal… no species can run faster, further under all conditions than humans can.
  • We can understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning by way of our intuition.

And, most importantly, we can learn from our experiences and senses and educate ourselves.

In Ultralearning, author Scott Young became fluent in four languages in one year. He did it by going to four countries for three months each and from the moment he arrived, would only speak in the native language. Given the same time and focus, chances are you could too. Ryan Gosling mastered 14 jazz pieces in four months to portray a talented jazz pianist in La La Land and received an Oscar nomination for his performance – even though he’d never played the piano before. One of the keys to Gosling’s success was hiring an expert to coach him along with focused deliberate practice 4-5 hours a day for four months.

If you have the intent to learn and combine it with daily focused practice – you can learn and even master most anything you set your mind to. You can accelerate that learning by employing an expert coach. The winning formula is: intention and focus plus doing applied over a specific time period. If you do that, you can master most anything.

So, let’s go back to that speeding train.  How can you thrive in an environment where the pace of change and volume of information is accelerating? By harnessing and focusing your super powers – using your dexterity of mind and body, along with your capacity for self-direction and learning aimed at mastery.  Not of everything – but identify and isolate the things that if you mastered them – would accelerate your own growth. 

Consider owning your professional development and personal growth. Commit to identifying the key new skills that will give you an edge in your professional or personal life and master them by following these few steps –

1) Identify and isolate the critical few skills with the biggest pay off for you

2) Begin with meta-learning – that is, break down the subject or skill you want to learn and research how others learned it; what approaches did they take?

3) Be nimble and adaptive and embrace change – it’s happening anyway so might as well get on board with it

4) Use your innate intelligence and human super powers to:

– Ponder and reflect on what you’re learning

– Isolate the key functions that will advance your skills

– Overlearn them – especially the hard ones

– Strive for mastery

5) Accelerate your progress by employing an expert coach (this might even be a colleague)

Above all, develop a bias for doing [3]. Adults learn new skills by doing. Adults won’t learn unless they want to. Look for what’s in it for you and pursue it.  Become a life-long learner and it just might advance your career options. Bill Gates is known for hiring people who are committed life-long learners – those who follow the golden 5 rule – 5 hours a week devoted to reading and learning.

My final challenge to you – commit to learning three new things that will make you more productive at work over the next three months. Tackle those new O365 applications that are confusing you like Teams and OneDrive. Get in the habit of growing your own expertise – it’s all in your very dexterous hands.


New Scientist, Super You, Richard Webb

Social Media Today

The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil

Tracy van der Schyff

Ultralearning, Scott Young

[3] Ultralearning, Scott Young