Monday, May 18, 2009

Anonymous Reader Claims the 21st Century is Not Happening!

An anonymous reader comments on a previous statement made here on TeachPaperless:
"C'mon: most of the jobs our elementary and middle school kids will be taking haven't even been invented yet."

I've seen this claim made over and over again by educrats, and I haven't seen the slightest shred of evidence for it.

Can you name a single job that exists today that didn't exist in 1999? I can't think of a single one.

Sorry anonymous reader, you must not get out much.

I'd start with anyone involved in the Wi-Fi industry. Then might add those crazy folks who make iPods. Add indie Web 2.0 developers and MMOG game masters into the mix. Sprinkle in an engineer or two working in Augmented Reality. And plop in a few professional bloggers.

Oh, and how about social media specialists (like the ones who ran with the Obama campaign)? And the entirety of the digital music distribution world (iTunes, etc...). And Green technologists and LEED leaders.

And don't even get me started on Homeland Security.

So, anonymous reader, thank you wholeheartedly for lumping my statement in with the claims of 'educrats', that means a lot coming from someone who apparently missed an entire decade.


  1. People in Wi-fi? There have been people working on broadcasting signals of all types for years. There were makers of personal electronic devices (including the walkman and diskman) before 1999. There were also web developers and MMORPG gamemasters in 1999 (Everquest was released in 1999 and Ultima Online has been around longer than that). Also, VR existed in the 90's. Bloggers? Writers have been making money from writing for centuries. Campaign managers have been around for decades. Websites with music were around in the 90's as well. Ditto with professional environmentalists. And there were plenty of people paid by the government to keep the country safe in the 90's.

    That makes you 0 for 11.

  2. Oh, and thank you for the misleading title (and my use of "misleading" is rather generous). I'm quite aware that it's the year 2009 and that we're in the 21st century.

  3. I think it is important to point out that this 21st century skills thing isn't just about preparing our students for the "new" jobs that are being created. There are many jobs that no longer exist, or will soon cease to exist, because of the changes in technology, our economy, and a global society. As the adult unemployment lines get longer, it is hard to argue with the need to provide our current students with the most innovative and comprehensive education possible.

  4. Writing existed...blogging is a different animal.
    Wifi existed...people creating it for homes and entire cities is brand spanking new.

    iPod Touch/iPhone App developer
    Student Response System designer
    And pretty much anything Google related other than maybe searching.

  5. I think a lot of things existed previously. However they have changed and morphed because of technology (for better or worse). In addition, there are new things as well.

  6. Dear Anonymous (if that is your real name),

    You are absolutely right. Nothing is new under the sun. No new jobs/careers/employments/technologies/paradigms have come about since the 90s.

    Though it is ironic that you make this claim via a blog comment. Maybe you should try writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

    I guess I'll just go put on my Walkman and listen to my Nirvana mix cassettes. While I'm at it, I'll dig out my old TV and wait around for a re-run of Seinfeld.

    Pardon my ironic sarcasm. It's so 90s.


  7. Sorry Anonymous, your argument does not hold water. The jobs you mentioned that existed in 1999 are nothing like the jobs that were mentioned in the post by Faire Alchemist. A game developer in the 90's is nothing like a game developer now. In fact, technology and the world have changed so much that colleges have created new majors to address these changes. This includes "Game Development, Homeland Security Management, Virtual Reality, and Social Network Development."

    The jobs are not the same. Campaign managers of the 90's had no idea how to do what Obama's people did. Social Networking is huge right now and people need to have the correct skills to implement these new ideas and technologies.

    Even jobs that existed, have completely changed. Writing for a newspaper is not the same as professionally blogging. It is a different style of writing, with a different audience.

    If you are still not convinced, search the internet for job postings and see what is out there - you will see that the jobs are either new or require an entirely new skill set.

    If you are really serious about this discussion, don't be anonymous.

  8. While I think Anonymous is being closed-minded, he/she did make one important point: that while there *are* some jobs that are 100% brand new (like iPhone app programmer, etc.), that's not really the issue for educators. The real issue is that professions that have stood the test of time, like writer/campaign manager/security expert/etc., have very different expectations and skill sets than they might have in the past. There's a big difference between teaching someone to be an "effective writer" and build skills that will serve them across multiple genres and learning a specialized trade like print journalism, technical writing, writing for the blogosphere, etc.

    The gap between Anonymous and the rest of us is because we're coming at the problem from different angles. Those of us in favor of Web 2.0 making new jobs are looking at very specialized jobs/careers, like what's actually written on your business card--and indeed, there was no such thing as "iPhone App Specialist" or "CEO of Wordpress" or "Professional Blogger" in 1996. But Anonymous is looking at broad-scale job CATEGORIES, not individual jobs--like writer or security expert or game developer--that have a huge number of people under their umbrellas. And when you generalize to a huge category, then of course the whole group of people will still exist in some form in just about any civilization at any time in history. There were writers, game developers, and security experts in Ancient Rome and Egypt too (yes, really on the game developers--try Googling for the ancient story about how die were first developed to combat famine). Those of us in Web 2.0 tend to hold specialization and personalization as core values because that's part of the beauty of Web 2.0, but Anonymous probably doesn't. So Anonymous sees broad categories where we see specificities.

    I actually agree with Anonymous that there is a base skill set for most of those categories that has not changed. To write for the 20th century or the 21st century, it was necessary to learn your ABC's and achieve basic competency in spelling; things like paragraph structure, making an argument, etc. have persisted even in Web 2.0 writing. However, I have seen in my own new media writing courses taught at the University level that students who have these "universal skills" are not necessarily equipped for Web 2.0 writing--and surprisingly, they seem to know and recognize this, at least if they've been crash coursed in the central tenets of rhetoric. IMO, it's the educator's job to teach both the basic set of skills that transcend most individual disciplines (Anonymous' argument) and to encourage students to develop specialized skills that are appropriate to the current time/place of their world. My mother may have learned to type on a typewriter, but that's served her well in the computer age; all she had to do was understand the new user space and develop new attitudes about how to use her basic skill of typing, and voila. And isn't that the business of good education, to not only teach SKILLS that will be useful across a multitude of professions (like writing, reading, critical thinking, etc.) but to also guide students toward the values, behaviors, and attitudes that will help them navigate the main communication spaces of their time?

  9. Jen,

    Fantastically well-thought-out response. I think you hit on something really important when you say: "The real issue is that professions that have stood the test of time, like writer/campaign manager/security expert/etc., have very different expectations and skill sets than they might have in the past."

    Indeed, we'll always have writers and editors, but in the age of immediate global publication, the skills necessary for success -- as well as just understanding the nature of the medium -- is something wholly different than the skills of the editors and writers in the past.

    It's certainly something I've learned the last few months blogging daily. In a traditional environment, I would have had an editor (hopefully) bump all the boneheaded things I've said through my posts. But that's not the way it is here: blogging is essentially a 'right now' form of writing and so you have to approach both yr best pieces as well as yr greatest travesties with the requisite distance yet -- crucially -- the networked mentality that only practice and practice and practice in this 21st century form can foster.

    That said, I think your point about new skills -- while valid -- is really only part of the the equation.

    I think the future will very quickly show us jobs that we literally could not have predicted and which are based on a whole new paradigm of what it means to be a human being. I'm thinking specifically in relation to artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and neuro-networking.

    Sci-fi stuff, sure... but think about Kubrick's 2001: videoconferencing from outerspace! (Guess what I've been watching via NASA all week...)

    In fact, astronauts -- as well as the folks on the ground who put the satellites we depend upon up in orbit are perfect examples of folks with jobs that the previous century could never have imagined.


  10. People have written personal writings professionally for decades.

    And yes, wifi existed in 1999. Only the scale of it changed.

    As for the rest...

    Cell phones existed in '99, remote controls (and clickers are merely glorified remotes) existed well before '99, and the internet existed before '99 (as well as ways to market and write on the internet).

    Game developers in '99 made video games. Game developers in '09 still....make video games! Surprise! The profession has merely become more popular, hence the various game development and design majors that exist today.

    As I've been looking to start a new career, I've kept a very close eye on internet job postings.

    I'm also aware that it's not the 90's.

    Let's see...that puts you people at 0 for 15.

    And why should I reveal my actual identity? Why don't you people post your SSNs first?

  11. Pardon the length of this comment. I'm wordy. I know.

    1. Yes, people have written personal things professionally. But few ever had an immediate global audience. Let alone an audience that could respond in real time. And while blogs may have started sometime in the mid to late 90s, they really only went viable as a profession in the 00s... probably because it took the culture of readership at large a while to catch up.

    2. There's a total difference between small-time localized Wi-Fi and blanket coverage of entire cities. Takes a whole other range of skills. Not to mention the auxiliary jobs in tech coordination and community development that help make the whole thing worthwhile.

    3. Cell phones existed. Yes, so did car phones. iPhones? No. Stop by your local Apple store to compare/contrast. Apples and Oranges.

    4. Remote controls are relative to what they are controlling. Garage door opener? Not too interesting. Wii controller? More interesting. Neuro-network controlled Smart Environments? Far out.

    5. Internet existed before 1999. True. Web 2.0? Not so much. Different animal. I don't think there is any job related to contemporary social and participatory media that really could have been fully comprehended in 1999. For goodness sake, just take the example of politics. We've had three elections within the time frame we're describing. The power of the Network wasn't even tapped into in any serious way on a major scale until the Dean campaign -- and that was small potatoes compared to what Obama's organization did. The Internet of 1999 and the Internet of today probably wouldn't even recognize one another.

    6. I wouldn't use the term 'game developers' so cavalierly. Have you seen what game developers have been creating for military training? Hint: Not video games.

    I think part of the problem in meaning is that the functions and realities have changed but the names remained the same. This happens historically. Consider the word 'computer' itself: used to mean a guy with an abacus.

    A sincere thanks (really, no irony) for starting this conversation. I apologize if you have been offended by the request for a name or handle; it's just that around these parts, it's typically seen as rude to post anonymously. You are welcome to do it, but you should know that folks might think you are rude.

    I have no intention of trying to change your mind; and if you'd read through the comments, you'd see that the readers here really don't constitute a club that I'd refer to as "you people". In fact, I think we're a rather engaging yet disparate bunch... plenty of folks disagree with me here all the time (and likely for good reason : )

    Heck, a few agreed with you.

    That's what this discussion is all about: tossing around ideas. And I'd argue that it's been facilitated by the very 21st century paradigm you seem to toss off when you say that there's nothing new under the sun. Maybe you preferred BBS chats; I happen to prefer Web 2.0.

    As for work, I didn't realize you were looking for a career change. Here's a few ideas (some perhaps silly, but all real)... best of luck. But you don't need luck, after all, I'm the one who's 0/15. Sorry I couldn't be of better help.

    A few 21st century jobs that floated through Twitter Search today: Corporate Twitterer, Web 2.0 apps creator, elementary school web master, local Tivo repair, corporate social net specialists, Web 2.0 guru, professional podcasting coach (I personally happen to love that one), Ghost Twitterer, social media marketer, online community mgr, storefront eBay broker...

    You might say: but that's just marketing, coding, electronics, broadcasting, and sales! That's been around forever! And I'd say: Ok, then. Start a company that requires any of these skills. Now, hire someone to take on these skills who hasn't used a computer since 1999 and who hasn't read, heard, or seen anything about Web 2.0 and social media in the news. Someone who wouldn't know Facebook from Twitter, Digg from Diigo: A complete NEWB. And now that person is in charge of your public face on the Net.

    How long you think your business will last?

    I dare make this comment a little bit longer by just saying one more thing: no one in the 19th century would have ever believed humans would have gone into space. And yet now, it's commonplace -- and literally many of us wouldn't have telephone service without the satellites shot into our orbit. Things change.

    Furthermore, ten years is a lot of time. What did Beijing look like ten years ago? Who ever thought Finland would become a math and science powerhouse? And Bill Murray as a dramatic actor?

    You are right that scale changes, but there is also an evolution as one thing leads to another and before long we have forgotten where we began.

    Just because you don't know where you are doesn't mean you're not there.

  12. What matters here is that the skill sets for jobs change. And the forms of jobs change.

    Yes, people have "set type" since Gutenberg, but your 15th Century skill set won't do much for you today if that is your job.

    Yes, people have worked "in wireless" since before Marconi, but if you think its the same job as it was in 1999, you know nothing about the industry.

    Yes, people have written for a few thousand years, but if you write a blog which looks like a standard newspaper story people will not read it. Every technology shift shifts the way content in formed.

    So, anonymous, it is you who are "oh, for" especially since you don't even understand that cognitive authority in this century depends on a combination of identity management and exhibited knowledge. But proclaiming anonymity, you are making your points less effective. I'll 'chalk' that up to the 19th Century education you unfortunately received in the 20th Century.

    Which is a mistake we 21st Century educators do not wish to repeat. Because, yes, if you had Bob Cratchitt's accounting skills, you still would have had to know contemporary office machines to get a job like that in the late 20th Century. 20th Century communication norms. 20th Century language. 20th Century strategies. But schools are often - encouraged by people like anonymous - preparing students for Bob Cratchitt's job. Cyphering with pen and ink, writing in longhand. Preparing letters typical of communications 50 years ago. Learning strategies long since vanished from the contemporary world.

    So, one more reason the Europeans will kick America's economic butt in the next few years. Nations like the UK are embracing technology and socialmedia, beginning in primary school. They are matching it to personalized tech and high academic standards. The US will be teaching handwriting instead.

    I hope American students find good jobs writing out wedding invitations for the Brits. That's the only shot the US has.

    - Ira Socol


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