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Venessa Miemis’ Twitter bio describes her as a “Metacog, futurist and thought architect tracking emerging media and technology trends & impacts.”  Now THAT got my attention.

Currently pursuing a masters degree in New Media Studies at the New School in NYC, she  has been passionately thinking and writing about the future for seven years. Venessa kindly agreed to an interview and I found her views on the connections between social media and education, politics, global community and our future to be one of the most thought-provoking posts I’ve featured here on {grow}. I think you’ll agree:

What is a futurist and how do I get a job like that?

A futurist’s role is to help people anticipate, plan for, and adapt to change. This means tracking emerging trends and seeing how they fit into the big picture and envisioning different scenarios for what might come next. You could call this “developing foresight.”   It’s a skill set that’s in pretty high demand these days.  Things are changing rapidly and everyone is looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve.

At the professional level, futurists are hired by organizations to help them understand the forces and trends shaping their industries, and anticipate the changing needs and desires of their customers in order to stay competitive.  At the individual level, each of us constantly thinks about our own goals and dreams and develops strategies that will help us accomplish them … so in some sense, we’re all futurists.  I do think we’re in a very transformative period in history, and we all need to hone our “futures thinking” skills in order to actively participate in the process of shaping our collective future, instead of just being a passive bystander.

You first connected with me after seeing my blog post on the future of social media.  Please answer this multiple choice question:  As a futurist, I thought Mark Schaefer’s social media forecast was a) entirely accurate;  b) uncanny and without error; or c) the subject of my college thesis.

Ha, well I think you hit on some great themes.  I wrote a post recently, 3 Key Trends Shaping the Web and Society, that looks at some megatrends that are driving today’s developments.  The one that’s influencing many of the social media trends on your list has to do with the increase in complexity around us.

Historically, as complexity increases, we develop better methods for making sense of it. A big challenge we’re facing right now is figuring out how to deal with information overload, and how to separate quality content from noise.  We’re trying to solve the problem through quantification.  As you mentioned, we’re going to continue to see information about ourselves, our habits, our sentiments, and our social connections become much more clearly measured and defined.

This could potentially be an amazing thing.  If we know more about each other, we may be able to begin collaborating on an enormous scale to solve some of the world’s serious problems. At the same time, as you also mentioned, if we’re not actively involved in demanding our civil liberties and digital rights, we may face some scary situations regarding privacy, power and control.  Thankfully, there are organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Peer to Peer Foundation that are dedicated to protecting our rights and values as we transition into a networked society.

One area on your list I disagree with is the notion that the digital divide will continue to grow and eventually become permanent. I think it will be just the opposite.  There’s a concept called “leapfrogging,” which describes how areas with poorly-developed technological or economic bases will skip over the intermediary steps and transition directly into adopting modern systems. For instance, you’re not going to see cables laid all over rural Africa so people can have internet access, you’re going to see an explosive growth of internet-connected mobile phone adoption.  As the technologies get better and cheaper, we’re going to see portable devices and interfaces become more seamlessly integrated into our lives, and it will be a game changer.

What are the social media trends you’re most concerned about?  Most optimistic about?

This passed through my twitterstream the other day: “Understanding how networks work is one of the most important literacies of the 21st century – Howard Rheingold.” I think that complements what I’ve been saying nicely.

While some people haven’t even entered the social media space yet, the rest of us are chomping at the bit and asking what’s next. We’re still very much in the Wild West of the real-time web. Just look at Twitter. There seems to be a new app released every day that’s trying to measure something – ROI, influence, impact, and so on. There are no established rules of conduct or best practices, and people are still arguing about whether it’s more important to have lots of followers or to be on lots of lists. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to capitalize on the space.

I understand that business is about monetization, but I think there’s something going on here that’s much bigger than people realize. It doesn’t fit into our traditional business models at all, because we’ve never had the opportunity before to leverage social networks at this scale.  That’s the next big social media trend: understanding how to leverage networks. We’re all here, we’re all connected – now what do we do?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the effects of social media in the workplace and the next generation of workers who grew up communicating with their thumbs.  What should we know about this group?

I’m actually rather concerned about this group.  I try to pay attention to what’s going on in many different fields to get a sense of the big picture, and the lack of  “new media literacy” in young people is alarming. You think it’s hard getting organizations to embrace social media — try looking at the educational system. It wasn’t designed for this. Forward-looking teachers see the necessity of bringing social technologies into the classroom to enhance the learning experience and prepare students for 21st century life, but it’s not happening fast enough.

Many young people are not being taught how to benefit from the power of the web as a tool for building a network and for learning. I mean, anyone who uses Twitter or belongs to an online community of some sort has seen that sharing information and learning from one another is not only fun and rewarding, it’s addictive.  Kids need to be shown how to navigate that world too.

I think the social web is enabling an informal learning process to take place that in some ways challenges the validity of our educational institutions.  It might be a bit extreme to tell schools to “‘innovate or die,” but they need to get with the program already. America is already falling behind in so many areas as geopolitical power shifts to other nations. We can’t afford to sit by and idly watch today’s youth go through a system that leaves them appallingly unprepared to compete in a global marketplace.

If the {grow} community wanted to learn more about the work of futurists and their study of social media, can you recommend a few resources?

The World Future Society , the World Futures Studies Federation and the Association for Professional Futurists (APF) websites are good places to start for an overview.  Ross Dawson and Gerd Leonhard focus a lot on the future of media on their blogs.  John Hagel and John Seely Brown both provide great insights into innovation and strategy from a business perspective. I’d also definitely recommend checking out the blogroll on KedgeForward, a blog by professional futurists Frank Spencer and Michael Morrell. It’s an excellent resource for future-focused exploring.

There are also several programs in the country to pursue higher education in Futures Studies. The University of Houston offers a Master of Technology in Futures Studies as well as a Certificate in Strategic Foresight.  Regent University offers a Master of Arts in Strategic Foresight, which is directed by Dr. Jay Gary.  And for those aching to leave the mainland, the Hawai’i Research Center for Futures Studies offer both an MA and a PhD in Alternative Futures through its Department of Political Science.   For a complete listing of Futures programs around the globe, visit this page on the Acceleration Studies Foundation website.

I’ve left the most important for last.  As a futurist, please tell me who you like for the Super Bowl.

My crystal ball has suddenly become very hazy…

Would love to have the {grow} community comment and pose other questions to Venessa!

Follow Venessa at @VenessaMiemis Her insightful blog can be found at: http://emergentbydesign.com/

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