Fortune tellers – or future tellers, even worse, always struggle with that question: how everything will look like in some years? I wrote an article for issue #26 of Coyote magazine, starting exactly from here, and talking digital youth work.
Coyote is the webzine of the Youth Partnership between EU and Council of Europe (which, despite the name, is an older, wider and different organization). The whole issue #26 was dedicated to smart youth work, with a lot of interesting contributions and reflections on many different aspects of using digital tools and media in non formal education.
My article started like this:
Future: What is to come?
Experts are clueless (Steve Jobs)
According to his close collaborators, Steve Jobs used to smile remembering that some consultants in 1984, while he was designing the Macintosh system, would advise Apple to build and sell a “daisy wheel printer”, because the market would require that device. Nowadays, most of you will never have even heard of this kind of printer, which quietly disappeared at the end of 1980s, while I am here today writing this article on a Macintosh.
When we talk about digital youth work, we are using an expression that has been created and grown (a bit) popular in the last two to three years. Honestly, it would be impossible to picture what it could go on to become in, let’s say, five years from now. Moreover, when we consider digital youth work happening inside private digital media platforms, such as Instagram nowadays, we are basically playing football in someone else’s garden, and we do not even own the ball. Players (and interests) very far from our understanding are in motion and having any clue as what they could have in store for us is just impossible.
What we could do is identify some possible trends and make ourselves ready – or even better, try to define a basic set of skills which could possibly help us in any future scenario. So, what is actually coming?
Maybe the growth of “virtual reality” (VR) headsets and software will bring us to completely new and uncharted territories, where one could experience being in places and situations without leaving home (or the youth centre).
Or maybe the growth of e-sports will (finally!?) make video games more relevant and more widely adopted in youth work contexts, so that it will not be only me and a few friends and colleagues using them in non-formal training sessions. “Hello Professor Falken, what about a nice game of chess?”
Instead it might be a makers’ culture of hacking and tinkering with devices to actually change the world into one where a sentient computer network called Skynet would employ a Schwarzenegger robot to get rid of its human opponents? “Hasta la vista baby.”
Our future may resemble any of these examples, or it may be completely different. We have seen it happening already: disruptive innovation in the youth work field may really happen out of the blue and have a very deep impact in a very short time. What should a digital youth worker do to keep up, then?
Hint: “An agile mindset is crucial”
As the EU experts’ group publication “Developing digital youth work”1 says, having an agile mindset regarding digital tools is the only way to survive a future where digital youth work will be indeed crucial, but nobody will know how. But there is some good news: one can learn.