Last week I wrote a bit about The Real Value of Tourism and its effect on the world. Specifically I wanted to explain my thoughts on how travel gives us a better understanding of cultures around us and how the tourism industry creates jobs. After I published my post, I read one of my go-to blogs, Who Will Lead?by my friend John Calia. John was writing about the Occupy Wall Street movement and about how they need to transition their brand message from a general, unfocused protest to a directed force. John wrote this about the protesters:
“I’m in the camp that thinks they should be marching on Washington. But where specifically? The White House? The Capitol? The Fed? The Department of Treasury? Too complicated. Let’s just occupy Wall Street. Another obvious observation: they have worked hard and played by the rules and feel screwed by the system. They need jobs.
But, here’s the problem. The jobs aren’t coming back and it has nothing to do with Wall Street. It has to do with technology and the Internet in particular. Have you been to an airport lately? If you have, you probably checked in to your flight at a kiosk which spit out a boarding pass and directed you to your gate. Remember how many people it used to take to check you in? Do you think those people are getting their jobs back?
…The Internet has disrupted a lot of old methods of doing business. Thousands, if not millions, of jobs have vanished by way of the use of RFID technology, websites that have replaced travel agents, retail stores, schools and data centers.
…The fact is that email destroyed the post office, Netflix destroyed Blockbuster and the guys who invented that airport kiosk destroyed all those airport jobs. And, all of us are willing participants. Oh, and by the way, if you have an iPhone, you can even skip the airport kiosk. How’s that for power in the palm of your hands?”
Is John right? Has the technology we know and love replaced the jobs we need? It used to be easier to feel smug because technology was only replacing less skilled jobs — such as the airport tickets John wrote about. But now that radiologists in the US are losing their jobs to radiologists in India reading X-rays over the Internet, stockbrokers are losing their jobs to online trading services, and musicians are finding less and less opportunities to play for pay thanks to easy access to free music, the problem is cutting a swath across blue and white collar workers alike.
Even web designers who were taking jobs from older, traditional advertising designers just five years ago are finding their jobs are now disappearing thanks to the proliferation of do-it-yourself websites in a box. And speaking of boxes, now that Pandora’s has been open, we can’t go back to the way it was. Or to completely mix my metaphors, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Of course, technology has created so many new jobs that it’s become cliché to say that the 10 most important jobs of the future don’t even exist today. The major difference is that workers will no longer have one or two careers over their entire working lives. Instead, futurists suggest that having 10 – 20 different jobs in a lifetime will be the norm. And even the word “job” might be the wrong description. Thinkers from Tom Peters to Seth Godin all suggest that the worker of the future won’t have a job but will be an independent contractor, using their laptop and Internet connection to become their own factory of one.
Imagine what this will do for higher education. In the past, a liberal arts education was considered de rigueur. Students weren’t taught specific job skills; instead, they were taught how to think and how to learn. Then, thanks to swelling student populations and a shrinking job market, vocational education of a sort became the norm. But instead of studying to be air conditioning mechanics, truck drivers or plumbers, students studied to be lawyers, computer engineers, and doctors. Upscale jobs to be sure, but vocational training just the same.
But how can you train for a specific opportunity if you don’t feel confident that your skills will be relevant when you graduate, let alone when you retire? And how do you even apply to college when the field you’re planning on studying hasn’t even been created? Instead, we may find that the liberal arts — and a corresponding general math, engineering, and science rigor — become popular once again as students realize they need be versed in fundamentals and well-prepared for a lifetime of learning.
Being an unflappable optimist, I see this current situation as a powerful readjustment to the better as we move forward into the Brave New World digital technology is hurtling straight at us. And firmly believing that you have to know where you’ve been in order to figure out where you’re going, I see powerful parallels for our time in many of the technological revolutions of the past, from Guttenberg to Whitney, Copernicus to Einstein.
Opposable thumbs seemed to have been the adaptation our distant ancestors needed to thrive. Clearly a flexible, chameleon-like ability will become the crucial Darwinian life skill of our time. Because as McCluhan’s medium becomes the message, the adaptive change we need today will be the ability to change and adapt.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the 900+ “Occupy” protests around the world evolve their brand messages into one focused demand. I’m even more curious to hear how you will evolve yours.
Why don’t you post a comment and let us all know what you’re thinking?