A few years ago (well, more like a decade ago now), I started working as a programmer and thought it would be a secure living for as long as I needed it. "Computers aren't going anywhere," I naively thought. I looked down at my home town and its long-term economic troubles rooted in the movement of labor overseas (in this case lumber and shipping, but it applies equally to textiles, automobiles, etc.). Not going to happen to me.
Well, from the perspective of mid-2005, I have good reasons to fear for my job. The last four years (post tech bubble) have been rough, although we have gotten by pretty well. I'm busier than I would like (should be working now, in fact). My profession hasn't been a lucrative as it once was, either. I'm lucky though, because I have skills that compliment my technical knowledge - primarily of the communication variety. So I've put together a niche for myself that is working out very well.
But reading this book by Freidman has me seeing things in a new light - or may it has focused things I already suspected.
A couple of interesting quotes:
The cold, hard truth is that management, shareholders, and investors are largely indifferent to where their profits come from or even where the employment is created. But they do want sustainable companies. Politicians, though, are compelled to stimulate the creation of jobs in a certain place. And residents-whether they are Americans, Europeans, or Indians-want to know that the good jobs are going to stay close to home (The World is Flat, page 211).Well that's the truth. The "capital" isn't going to change it's opinion (mostly - some companies view social/societal obligations as critical to their success. Costco being a great example). But the politicians are pushing protectionism as a solution, when it really only hurts our position economically. Education is the real problem and solution. We have to create (or repair) a climate where it makes sense for companies to do business here. Content based curriculum standards and high-stakes tests (the current favorite) aren't the answer.
Strangely, I think the answer to the these questions about the future rests in concepts from the past. Specically, the "classic liberal education" available at many American colleges. Friedman talks about an interview he had with Colin Powell before Powell stepped down as Secretary of State. Friedman asks Powell if he remembers where he was when he realized the "world had gone flat". Without missing a beat, Powell replied "Google." The importance of the point can't be underestimated. The sum of human knowledge is at your finger tips, every day. It doesn't matter at all if students remember why 1066 is an important date in Western History (type "1066" into Google and see what you get). Not if they know how to find out. The tools of the information age have flattened the world by giving nearly everyone access to information, instant communciation and feedback.
Powell notes that he used to ask his staff for the text of a particular UN resolution, only to wait hours to get the answer. "Now I just type into Google 'UNSC Resolution 242' and up comes the text." His staffers noted that he doesn't ask for information much anymore. Now he asks for analysis and action. Big difference. Critical Thinking skills just got a lot more important.
Powell, according to his staffers, also kept IM sessions running with his British counterpart, Jack Straw, during summit meetings. Presumably encrypted. That is simply amazing to me.
(all those quotes were from Friedman's chapter "The Great Sorting Out").
In The Demon Haunted World, the late Carl Sagan wrote:
If we teach only the findings and products of science - no matter how useful and even inspiring they may be - without communicating its critical method, how can the average person possibly distinguish science from pseudoscience? Both then are presented as unsupported assertion.Chapter 1, at least, ought to be required reading for all high school students. Until you understand THIS, no diploma for you.
It is a supreme challenge for the popularizer of science to make clear the actual, tortuous history of its great discoveries and the misapprehensions and occasional stubborn refusal by its practitioners to change course. Many, perhaps most, science textbooks for budding scientists tread lightly here. It is enormously easier to present in an appealing way the wisdom distilled from centuries of patient and collective interrogation of Nature than to detail the messy distillation apparatus. The method of science, as stodgy and grumpy as it may seem, is far more important than the findings of science (pages 21-22).
Wandered around a bit there, sorry. Thanks for reading.