Embracing change and our ‘digital kids’ | Livingston

What happens if our leadership is not on board with or understands the rate of change taking place?

The rolling train of life can be seen in the past, present, and future — with Generation Alpha 2010-2024 firmly on the tracks and Generation Beta 2025-2039 adding a new car. They are now the front and center planning challenges. What does that mean for our city, nation, and our ever-changing world?

Every city struggles with the aches and pains of aging infrastructure, crime, and managing their limited resources in the present, they often forget they have a responsibility for defining and developing the essential building blocks of a community’s future reality. We are living in an age of monumental change.

What happens if our leadership is not on board with or understands the rate of change taking place? What happens when residents fight the evolution of progressional change?

The hardest thing for any of us to do is visualize where we will be in 20 years in terms of technology, demographics, employment, education, economics, transportation, health care, and lifestyle resources. Our city is nearing completion of a twenty-year comprehensive plan. It will provide a glimpse of our growth challenges and opportunities to improve resources and lifestyle capabilities for all who choose to live, work, and play here.

Like most planning documents, it will serve as a guide and be as effective as our elected leadership, forward-thinking staff, and politically active residential base want it to be. Change will happen because of or in spite of the plan. Will the change that happens be what our community needs?

We need to understand that knowledge is doubling every twelve months and technology is doubling every 18 months. At that rate of change, humankind is unable to keep up, and cities, due to their “hard” infrastructure, will be significantly challenged to make smart incremental choices in the present as we collectively prepare for a very different future.

It appears that we are culturally evolving into the imaginative world of science fiction. How do we contend with and stay current when our future norm is changing rapidly with intellectual half-lives and technical advances we cannot absorb? Generation Alpha is defined as “digital” and Beta will be the first to have full “AI” (Artificial Intelligence) exposure. How do we plan to reimagine ourselves to support these generational paradigm shifts?

Retrofitting city footprints, education systems, transportation expectations, tackling climate change in all infrastructure, expanding communication capabilities, and reducing economic stratification are essential to assuring equitable access, future success, and community desirability.

Our digital kids are finding their creativity and connectivity through gaming, social media, and hands-on learning. To facilitate our Gen-Alphas development for the best future possible we need to focus on creativity and critical thinking skills through storytelling, learning a musical instrument, developing coding and programming skills, culinary arts, multilingual learning, virtual travel, science experiments, environmental awareness, hands-on making skills, and digital learning.

Our Alphas have had access to digital devices as entertainment and personal resources from the cradle. They are intuitive with technology and learn by using and connecting through devices. Need a TikTok video? Get an older Alpha or younger Generation Z to embrace the challenge.

They will redefine the work environment and may choose to forgo college because of cost but also, they are likely to be adept at self-education digitally. They will be skills-based digital thinkers.

Colleges are working overtime to attract and serve a new generation of students who can classroom from anywhere. Learning for the sake of learning may become more important than earning degrees.

Education’s future progress is being challenged by book banners and those that want to privatize the system — i.e. break it — and they are doing what they can to ensure that the resources needed for all learners are not easily accessible. Not preparing all with a sense of equity and purpose will have economic consequences for our city and deny access to many. Digital and AI skills combined with critical thinking will drive success.

Our local leaders should be thinking outside their comfort zone by looking beyond the weight of present problems and asking what a city designed to serve Generation Beta needs to look and feel like. The act of thinking like a futurist and working backward incrementally may help reimagine what we are currently doing and begin re-positioning each task and purchase made to secure future building blocks relatable to the needs of the next generations as they come of age.

Admittedly, we are encumbered by our lack of imagination and the prejudices of previous generations. Everything feels wrong at the moment. Our current leaders have minimal future-thinking skills and are suffering from present-day credibility issues. Problems never seem to be solved – homelessness, drugs, affordable housing, climate change, and more. Schools and cities are underfunded, resource-challenged, and encumbered by minimal accountability for criminal activities and general bad behavior.

Political partisanship is stifling relationship building, and all of us are threatened daily with misinformation propaganda and data mining, assuring we get a steady feed of echo chamber reinforcement, so fear is ruling our decision-making processes rather than knowledge and understanding.

Ignoring challenges and allowing problems to fester is increasing our collective anger and forcing us to take sides in cultural as well as physical wars where eventually we all lose. Most of us do not understand the reality that our current generation of homeless and drug-afflicted afflicted are living with. Their present started years ago when past leaders made poor choices for the future. It will take years and millions of dollars to reposition these souls on a path toward personal viability and some will never re-matriculate to a desired standard.

The real challenge for us is to do at least two things at once: to not lose focus on the needs of the less fortunate and to get busy building a better society designed to meet the realities of the next generations. Generations Alpha and Beta will be diverse and technologically savvy, and if we plan properly for their future now, we will all benefit in the present.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com