I don't know if I've mentioned before that I'm a sci fi writer -- in a manner of speaking. It's not like I'm published in the field or anything. But either way, that means I'm ostensibly qualified to make sweeping generalizations about what the future of humanity is going to be like! Feel free to ignore my insane ramblings. Several minutes ago, I blogged about a speech by Malcolm Gladwell, about how childhood prodigy does not necessarily translate to adulthood brilliance in a field. This, along with some other points, has some implications about the future of humankind, and those implications look optimistic to me.
It may not surprise you to learn that I worry about the sociological implications of the increasing specialization in professionalism -- we are as a species quickly approaching the point at which it will be unrealistic to expect anyone to understand a job they don't do.
This potential future carries with it implications of the classic dystopian/utopian* trope in which children are assigned professions at birth and raised into them, without choice or flexibility. This is something I'm staunchly opposed to, not just because I don't think it can possibly work, but because it's a blatant denial of the individuals' right to choice.
It's been said by sources unknown** that students graduating high school this decade are likely to change careers -- completely, not just bouncing around within a field -- up to seven times before retirement. Maybe this seems worrying, but it sounds like good news to me.
The first and most obvious implication to me is that every career will be populated by veterans from other careers, who will have experience in a variety of other fields, offering them fodder for creativity and revolutionary problem solving. The new employees, young kids fresh out of college, may not have these advantages, but they'll have the benefit of having come out of the cutting edge of the profession.
This means that everyone working in a field will not only be valuable, but they'll be valuable for different reasons. Everyone will be bringing something unique to the table -- they're not just cogs in the machine. In this future, professions could affirm the humanity of their employees as a matter of course.
In one of the most emailed TED talks, Sir Ken Robinson argues that education systems across the world need to be revolutionized to promote and affirm the creativity of the children passing through them, rather than just mass-producing employees.
I've always supported this position, but in light of this new evidence, it now seems to me that this approach to education isn't just more likely to be life-affirming and positive for the experience of the human beings passing through the world (which I believe is the end goal of a civilization, anyway) but will be actively better for the future of our workforce, creating a culture of people talented at picking up expertise and using their past experiences to solve problems in revolutionary ways.
We're quickly approaching an age where revolution is going to need to be part of the daily toolkit of everyone's working life. And today, I'm more optimistic than I've ever been that we're capable as a species of rising to that challenge.
*I'm convinced those words mean the same thing. **I didn't really try to look it up, but unless it's an outright lie, and no one ever changes careers ever, the points I'm making off it still stand to a degree.