The 2020s promise to bring changes across the world, from the way we learn to what we read and from what we eat to how we make a living. At the dawn of the new decade, seven Furman University experts offer predictions.
1. The job market: Workers will race to retrain; Soft skills will be prized. – Anthony Herrera, executive director of Furman’s Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
2. Books and movies: Storytellers will increasingly reflect our diverse population. – Willard Pate, professor of English
3. Food as medicine: What we eat could improve a host of health conditions – Linnea Freeman, assistant professor of biology
4. Social attitudes: Today’s minority groups may experience greater acceptance. – Nader Hakim, assistant professor of psychology
5. Education: Teacher shortages, standardized testing at a crossroads and a more diverse student body. – Paul Thomas, professor of education
6. The economy: Fighting climate change will be crucial to economic prosperity. – M. Taha Kasim, assistant professor of economics
7. The planet: ‘Climate action can and must transform society this decade.’ – Matthew Cohen, assistant professor of sustainability science
The job market: Workers will race to retrain; Soft skills will be prized.
“The biggest challenge innovators will face is balancing the benefits of Artificial Intelligence and technology advancements with the costs. The greatest cost is the impact to the global workforce. Routine tasks and positions will no longer need a human to complete. This relentless pursuit of high-efficiency, low cost, and greater advancement by organizations will ultimately make an entire workforce obsolete. The race is on to retool and reskill today’s workforce for the jobs of the future. The most adaptable workers will be those with soft skills that organizations need and machines cannot replicate….those same skills that are developed while pursuing a liberal arts education: creativity, problem solving, global awareness, communications, etc.”
– Anthony Herrera, executive director of Furman’s Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Books and movies: Storytellers will look more like the population at large.
“Diversity and technology. I think it’s safe to predict that these two words will loom large in discussions about literature and film during the next decade. For a number of years the voices of women, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, etc. have spoken through novels like ‘Beloved,’ ‘The House of Broken Angels,’ and ‘The Joy Luck Club,’ but as the population of America becomes even more diverse, more diverse voices will take part in the conversation. The same holds true for film. The 2020s will usher in more women directors who can join what is now the small club of established women directors like Ava Duvernay (‘Selma’) and Greta Gerwig (‘Little Women’). Films like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ will cease to be one-offs, but will become more standard fare. As for technology, years ago Amazon’s tablet was supposed to revolutionize the way we read, and it has to a great extent. But books in print still exist, and so do independent bookstores, despite dire earlier predictions of their demise. My guess is that printed books and independent bookstores will hold their own at least through the next decade.”
– Willard Pate, professor of English
Food as medicine – What we eat could improve a host of health conditions
“In the coming decade, one question that is of central importance in the field of nutritional neuroscience actually lies outside of the brain: in the gut. Pioneering work in the last decade has examined a link between the brain and gut, particularly how the composition of the gut microbiome – microorganisms that live in our intestines and for the most part, have a mutualistic relationship – can lead to various neurobiological changes. We now know that an altered gut microbiome can be connected to Parkinson’s disease, autism, depression, anxiety, as well as many other conditions.
There is some genetic component – and what my research (and others’) suggests is that an individual’s sex, environment, age and other factors matter – but diet is a big component and something that can be changed.
However, something we do not know yet… is how. It has been established that there is communication from the brain to the gut and the gut to the brain, but how are these messages sent? What are the critical messages? Can they be re-wired? Is an altered gut microbiome a cause or effect of certain nervous system conditions? I predict that the next decade will include great strides in better understanding the messengers of the gut-brain axis. This work will inform strategies for prevention as well as treatment of nervous system disorders.”
– Linnea Freeman, assistant professor of biology
Social attitudes: Today’s minority groups may experience greater acceptance.
“I think the largest question will again be immigration from Central America. We have a timeline for when more folks will identify more as non-whites than whites, and there are studies prompting people to envision, ‘If you picture the country being majority-minority, how does that make you feel?’ Depending on their conditions and circumstances, people express different levels of support or comfort with that reality. It will be particularly interesting to see if the way we think about race/ethnicity – particularly what it means to ‘belong’ to one group or another – undergoes a shift in the next few decades.
In the near term, I would also anticipate increased attention to the prejudice and discrimination targeting religious minority groups (we’ve seen a recent spike in violent anti-Semitism in particular). While President Trump outlined very clear attitudes towards Muslims leading up to 2016 that will continue in 2020, I expect anti-Semitism to occupy more focus than previously. It will be interesting to see if Democratic candidates challenge Trump on his previous equivocation in condemning neo-Nazis, and if Trump and Republicans more broadly attempt to paint Democrats, particularly Bernie Sanders, as anti-Semitic for challenging the status quo on U.S.-Israel relations.”
– Nader Hakim, assistant professor of psychology
Education: Expect teacher shortages, standardized testing at a crossroads and a more diverse student body.
“Like John Dewey, I am skeptical about predictions, especially concerning education. But there are some trends in K-12 public education likely to continue into the 2020s. First, education must either face that the 40-year accountability movement based on standards and testing has failed, or dig that hole deeper. Also, public schools continue to become far more diverse by race and more concentrated with students from poverty as well as English language learners. A very disturbing trend that needs to be abandoned is state reading legislation that is hyper-focusing on third-grade reading and test scores, adopting grade retention, and viewing all reading problems as an increase in dyslexia. Finally, state funding formulas for public schools will continue to be debated along with how to support teaching as a profession with fewer young people choosing the profession and more teachers abandoning the field midcareer.”
– Paul Thomas, professor of education
The economy: Fighting climate change will be crucial to economic prosperity.
“This topic deserves considerable attention because it has the potential to have serious implications for economic and political stability. The effects of climate change on agricultural output, demand for energy, population displacement, labor productivity, human health and biodiversity cannot be ignored. Climate change is a global concern and the least-developed countries are perhaps at most risk. Policy instruments need to be designed at the local, national and global level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, carbon taxation has been found to be the most effective way to address this issue. Such policies not only reduce emissions but also create incentives for adoption of ‘cleaner’ methods of production. Another benefit of these policies, from a fiscal perspective, is that governments can decrease conventional taxes elsewhere in the economy, and hence eliminate welfare losses associated with such taxes. Support for collective action against climate change is growing and governments around the world need to devise strategies for low-carbon, climate-resilient growth.”
– M. Taha Kasim, assistant professor of economics
The planet: ‘Climate action can and must transform society this decade.’
“This will have to be a transformative decade. As I write this, we just closed out the hottest decade on record, Australia is burning and Greenland’s ice sheet is melting faster than most feared possible. But all is not lost – yet. The world’s leading climate scientists have set our target for cutting global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and being carbon neutral by 2050. That 2030 goal neatly caps off the decade we’re entering, and what we do about climate will define the 20s. Recently, researchers from Stanford calculated the cost of transitioning the entire planet to renewable energy by 2050, and it’s expensive, but the payback period would only be seven years. Not a bad investment! But most importantly, the tools and technology that we need to solve this crisis are already available. We don’t need a panacea, and we don’t have to wait for the next shiny technology to come on line. All we need is the political will to save the world.”
– Matthew Cohen, assistant professor of sustainability science