Category Archives: Education

Getting Out of this Recession

Throughout this recession business, I’ve been counting my blessings. Sure we weren’t able to sell our house to move to a decent school district, but we got lucky and did get our son into a different district. I’ve been able to make positive career changes in a climate where so many have had to cling to substandard employment just to get by. I appreciate that my family has been pretty lucky.

But I’m worried. Anxious for my country, my children, myself, and my neighbors. How are things going to get better? Seth Godin identified the heart of the problem:

The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.

This represents a significant discontinuity, a life-changing disappointment for hard-working people who are hoping for stability but are unlikely to get it. It’s a recession, the recession of a hundred years of the growth of the industrial complex.

The forever recession (and the coming revolution) -Seth Godin

That’s it! America excelled at industrialization. We crushed it. Schooled the world on how to produce bigger-better-faster-more. Then we looked around and decided that workers needed better compensation, better living conditions, and a shot at providing a nice life for their families. Labor became more expensive at home than abroad. The jobs followed. The American industrial worker has been watching his job prospects shrink since the 1980’s. Along with jobs, gone are pensions and the security of holding the same good job for the duration of one’s working life.

We keep trying to get those jobs back. Reduce our trade deficits and make it more financially appealing for businesses to stay in America. We have yet to realize that we are trying to recreate the past, turn back the clock. Let’s face reality. The world has changed. We were the ones who changed it.

In the past 50 years, our country has changed. Women make up half the workforce. The demographics of our country have shifted. Mexican-Americans, African-Americans and other minorities out-number the white majority. And there’s this thing called the internet.

It’s time to focus on this new direction, and realize that America is blazing a new trail. Let’s take advantage of our strengths. The American people firmly believe that they have the ability to change their destinies. In the past, it was the sweat of a man’s brow that was the means to a prosperous future. Today it’s networking, ingenuity, information, and the ability to seek out resources that are the tools for success.

Today’s successful entrepreneurs start small with what they have. They borrow, build co-ops, crowd-source and improvise to get their product to market. They don’t wait for someone to fund their great idea. They go after it themselves. Today’s workers own their careers. We don’t wait for a promotion in order to add to our skills. We find a way to build the skills on our own and then go get the position, usually at a new organization. Job-hopping is no longer a stain on your permanent record. As a matter of fact, staying in one place too long is a warning flag.

The answer to getting out of this recession is beginning to embrace this new world we’ve created. We cannot continue to do the same things we’ve always done and expect different results. Our children need to be prepared for this new working world in our schools. The unemployed need to learn new skills to get the jobs that are already available, unfilled because no one is qualified.

Stop being afraid of things staying the same or getting worse. Get excited about building this new future. Let’s get after it.

Is Easy-to-Use Hurting Us?

There’s an inherent tension between designing something so that someone doesn’t have to think, and cultivating the drive to learn something new. Are we dumbing things down and perpetuating the ‘entitlement culture’? Is Google Making Us Stupid? from 2008 describes the downside to increasingly easy and instant access to vast hordes of information.  We used to spend days in a library to find something that now takes us seconds. We don’t have to spend energy memorizing things because we know that google will be there to answer our questions time and again. There are plusses and minuses to the situation. Better access to more information for more people, shorter attention spans and information overload.

I remember trying to figure out how to use the TRS80 that my parents bought back in the days when I was playing Oregon Trail on an Apple at school. I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to make it do something productive. We were so naive that we didn’t know that we had only purchased hardware and that we needed to buy software to do wordprocessing. So we used it to play the one game that came in the box and eventually forgot that it existed. (My parents still bemoan how we didn’t use what they spent hard-earned money on.) Now, if someone gave me something that I wanted to learn how to use, I have unlimited resources at my fingertips. If I can’t find the information on my own, I can reach out via facebook and twitter and get the answer from another person. If motivated, I can figure nearly anything out because I have the information available.

But are we creating a world that conditions people to be less motivated because information is so accessible? Do we get frustrated more easily since we have less practice staring at interfaces that aren’t self-explanatory? I say no for a few reasons. Primarily, there are so many complex problems waiting for us on a daily basis, we really don’t need to be concerned with doing harm by removing a few roadblocks from someone’s life. We still have world hunger, poverty, wars and omelet flipping to figure out. If we are making it easier to deal with the little stuff, or streamlining a task so that a person has more time to spend with their kids, I say bravo!

Additionally, we are opening doors for individuals to learn things of interest. Children are no longer limited by the quality of their local library and their access to transportation. If you want to learn to play guitar and can’t afford lessons, there are vast online resources. Struggling with math or literacy? Skype with a family member who can tutor you. Endless possibilities. A computer and an internet connection maybe the most important thing to provide for your child’s future success. (I don’t want to open up that can of worms here at the moment, though.)

We should acknowledge this tension between what we require someone to learn and understand versus what we simplify and automate. It’s not always bad to make someone think or learn in order to use an interface. Let’s just make sure that it happens for the right reasons. I don’t think technology is making us stupid. In fact, it’s freeing up our minds to focus on the big, heavy ideas and connecting us with others so that we can work together.