Social Skills Have Never Been More Important … or More Rare

Two trends have become clear recently which, in conjunction, should give us pause concerning the future of America. Trend one: robots are replacing human workers, and the only currently expanding market requires social skills:

David Deming, an associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University, has found that jobs requiring social interaction are growing relative to work that doesn’t, and such skills may offer some protection from robotic takeover. Certain high-level professions that demand technical expertise and low-skill work that can be done by a greater share of the population often have in common a need for language, creativity, flexibility and physical dexterity, all things humans currently can do better than machines.

Almost all job growth since 1980 has been in work that is social-skill intensive, according to research from Deming published in August. Occupations that require high levels of analytical and mathematical reasoning but little social interface — for example statistical clerks and machinists — have “fared especially poorly,” he wrote. Meanwhile real wage growth has been strongest in jobs that require workers to have both math and social skills, such as registered nurses, designers and financial managers.

We should all be fine then, right? We’re all great with social skills. Not so fast. And not so much. Another study indicates that “social” media has contributed to a marked disintegration of social skills among Millennials:

Those are the findings of a new survey, which showed that as millennials spend more time engaged on social media platforms, it’s causing them to be less social in real life. The study, conducted by Flashgap, a photo-sharing application with more than 150,000 users, found that 87 percent of millennials admitted to missing out on a conversation because they were distracted by their phone. Meanwhile, 54 percent said they experience a fear of missing out if not checking social networks.

In other words, social skills have never been more vital, and we have never done more to try to destroy them. Weep for the future.