Kingston Diary - Are traditional communication skills declining?
It would appear that social commentators are becoming increasingly concerned about the inexorable decline of traditional communication skills. Face-to-face conversation seems to have been largely replaced by character-limited online exchanges in the form of email, texts and tweets.
The Times newspaper only last week, reported an Ofcom survey of 16-24 year olds that found 15% consider phone calls the most important method of communication with 36% preferring instant messaging. Incredibly, most respondents stated that they would prefer to message, text or email people even if they were in the same room: truly a new generation mute.
Last year Facebook messenger reached 65% of the UK population. Founder Mark Zuckerberg this week acknowledged that he had created a monster by knowingly ‘exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology’ designed deliberately to draw people in and keep them hooked. He admitted to misjudging the influence it would become, telling his daughter in an open letter to ‘go outside and play’.
So should we be concerned? After all, the data points towards a strong association between increased mobile phone use and soaring levels of isolation and loneliness. Is the ubiquity of digital interaction replacing conversation, and even degrading our facility for it? For young people especially, having a cell phone in hand is the default mode. That means much less chance for interaction and socialisation with those in the ‘real world’.
In the future, we are told, many traditional, well-paid jobs may be taken by robots that we declare to be intelligent as if they are human beings. But that doesn’t mean that they are. The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report which surveyed more than 10,000 business and human resource leaders, found that only 20% believed digitalisation will translate into fewer jobs overall. More than three quarters of the companies said they either will retrain people to use technology or will redesign jobs to take better advantage of human skills. So if these ‘human skills’ are to be even more valuable than they are at present, should we sit back and allow the art of conversation and debate to die?
As technology continues to evolve, our young people will of course need STEM skills, but they will also need to be skilled in softer areas such as critical thinking, creativity, selling and relationship building. The ability to lead, strategise and inspire others to follow you and bring your vision to life will become more important. We must, therefore, increasingly place a premium on these softer skills, allowing students to work together in teams, build relationships with those around them, communicate and learn to lead through social activities.
I was delighted therefore to see such effective use of a wide variety of communication skills last week at the Kingston Revue; as always the array of talent was impressive. There are also plenty of other opportunities to develop social and communication skills at KGS including clubs and societies such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award for Fourth and Sixth Formers, CCF, junior and senior GibSoc, the yearly Srinivasan Presentation Prize and House Drama. Many of our students use their soft skills to great effect as Junior Ambassadors and Prefects. And everyone has the opportunity to shine by taking part in class presentations and discussion, volunteering to lead and present year group assemblies and representing their form groups as class reps and mentors. And the ultimate test of these skills comes during the numerous group tours and open evenings; as tour guides they are outstanding ambassadors for the school and never fail to impress me.