I’ve had this blog post brewing for months now, almost a year. However this Globe and Mail article titled “2012 vs. 1984: Young adults really do have it harder today” and the subsequent Reddit conversation around it really was the tipping point for me to write my thoughts out on the issue. I was blown away by how many people my age (20 somethings) were upset (absolutely furious even) that they weren’t getting the same deal as their parents. The same people seemed blind to the sheer number of opportunities around them. My comment on Reddit was a simple jab: “Oh woe is us and our iPhones.” – I’ve never had such hate directed at me for such a simple comment. What I loved most is being accused of being a baby boomer myself because someone in their 20s couldn’t possibly disagree with The Globe’s article. When the comment came in trying to compare a Sony Walkman with an Apple iPhone – I realized my generation didn’t truly understand the stunning gift that technology and the internet had given us. To me it was a gateway into anything I could imagine – to them it was a glorified music box. Few people saw why the prevalence of smart phones had anything at all to do with the economy, education, or employment. All they see is how the baby boomer generation “screwed us” because we’re not going get the same things as they did for the same price.
The two big points I want to drive home:
1) The world in 1984 is a completely different one than ours today in 2012. The main factor for this is simple: technology and the internet.
2) The old school mentality of: “Go to university -> Get great job with your degree -> Buy a house + car -> Work 2 or 3 jobs for 35-40 years -> Retire” is LONG OVER. Our baby boomer parents may not believe it, but it is, and the evidence of such is all around us.
The internet has changed how we live almost completely, and will continue to whether you want it to or not – it’s an unstoppable force driven by not only corporate greed, but more importantly mankind’s desire to progress. This year in Salt Lake City it will become common-place to pay for your bus fare, lunch and other small purchases with an Android smart phone. Next year it will be more cities, and in 5 years time people in North America will be insulted when a merchant doesn’t have a “tap to pay” terminal installed. To some this is a natural progression, but let’s take a mental step back: our currency is changing. The way we pay for things has been largely unchanged over the past several hundred years, and all of that is about to change over the course of a mere decade. Currency is only a single example of the major changes technology is bringing us. Everything is changing: from the way we consume media, the way we communicate with each other, the way we travel, even the way we age – it’s all being changed more dramatically and quickly than ever before in human history. The speed that these changes come is unnatural for almost everyone born before the 80’s and almost everyone born after the 80’s takes this speed of change for granted – in fact – for most it’s expected (even if on an unconscious level).
Think about it for a moment: literally, the entire compendium of human knowledge is available at your fingertips no matter where on the planet you are (not to mention the instantaneous communication). This has far reaching implications for education, work forces, and well beyond. Suddenly you don’t have to be a history major to “know” when a specific event occurred – give me 20 seconds to look it up and I’ll have a guaranteed-accurate result that’s arguably more trustworthy than the one the history major can spout off the top of their head (talk of authority and trustworthiness of that digitally obtained information is a topic for another post). This just plain wasn’t possible up until about a decade or so ago. Suddenly if you need to know something, you don’t have to go spend hours/days/years learning it. This is an absolutely mammoth change for all mankind (and also why free software is important). Again, speaking as a developer, I see how this impacts my industry in a very real way: a cursory awareness of a technology is enough for most talented developers to claim to people that “they can do it” because they know after a weekend of tinkering, tutorials, IRC + forums they know enough to implement a solution using that technology. You may think this isn’t applicable to your industry, but it really is. A talented brick-worker can simply watch a video and read up on a new technique some other brick-worker came up with. Of course, they would have to play with it and practice to develop their own skill – but they certainly wouldn’t have to go back to school to learn it. This ability to rapidly uptake new knowledge is what is making post-secondary education almost obsolete (save for advanced, and/or very specific research). It’s also what makes a good employee into a great employee.
I went to Humber College to get a “computer programmer” degree for 3 semesters before I dropped out and got a job as a computer programmer. I was lucky enough to realize the stuff they were teaching was already out dated. A teacher reciting lines of Java out of a textbook was a vastly inferior way to learn when I compared it to how I had been teaching myself my whole life. This would have been much less true had I have taken a University computer science program of course, but what little concerns I had about this were put to rest after I had worked with a few computer science grads. A few of these people, with $100K+ computer science degrees barely knew how to use a terminal, let alone write good code. It was absolutely stunning to see how little they actually knew despite having a piece of paper that said they should know all of it. Of course, these people are edge cases, but I found myself easily able to keep up with the com-sci grads who were talented even though I didn’t have a degree myself. For the times when I’m not able to keep up on a subject – a quick Google’ing of the topic and 10 minutes or so of reading is usually enough to get me up to speed and able to contribute to the conversation.
You don’t have to go to university to get a good job. You don’t have to own a car to get around. You don’t have to own a house to live in. You don’t have to get married to be in a happy relationship. You don’t have to retire to take it easy in your old age. These are the death knells of the baby boomer ways of life – your parents want the best for you and for some “the best” means explicitly all of those things: University, a single high-paying career, a beautiful house, a car, a family and a retirement plan. Those are all very nice things, but it’s certainly not “the best” for all of us, and it’s coming to the point where it’s not even “the best” for most of us. Blindly striving for these things almost becomes binding when you look at all the freedom technology affords us today. You as an individual (or as a family) need to ask yourself: is this really what I want? Will it make me happy to have all these things (Did it make your parents happy?). Learn to appreciate what technology can do for you in every aspect of life and embrace it. If you don’t, you’ll be left behind because it’s only getting bigger and more prevalent at a faster and faster pace. If you do, you’ll excel past your peers, you’ll excel into employment success well beyond what your baby boomer parents could have hoped for … you’ll make them proud in ways they never could have expected.