Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Are we there yet?

Preparation for a course I will be facilitating shortly led to some interesting discoveries about technology, the pace of change and its impact on our world.  Here's the discovery that particularly resonated with me:  in 10 years' time, 80% of the jobs that young people will enter the work force in, do not yet exist.

Think about that for a moment.  A child of the future will not be able to answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?". They won't be able to plan their education around fulfilling that dream either. Unless they're going to be an artist of some sort - writer, actor, musician, painter, dancer etc.

I think this is amazing.

Looking back over my time in education and the workforce it's interesting to think about how things have changed.

In primary school (ok, I was there during the 1970's) we learnt maths by counting and using Cuisenaire rods.  I'll confess that I also used my fingers and toes where necessary.  There were no calculators in sight - not until Maths I and Maths II in secondary school.  People who know me well may consider this method to have been a failure when they consider my mathematical nervousness.

We had whole lessons devoted to learning how to actually write - form letters on the page with a pencil first, and then a pen.  Once printing had been mastered, we then graduated to "running writing" or cursive.  So much attention was paid that when I moved interstate in the middle of primary school, I had to learn a whole new style of cursive script.  Assignments and exams were written by hand, so readability was a pretty important characteristic to achieve.

In grade 3, I had a very enterprising teacher, Mr McMahon, who brought his own computer into the classroom for us.  It was a Commodore 64 and I think we did some very basic programming on it as well as things like quizzes.  It seemed very special at the time.  At that same school there was a photography program which meant there was a fully equipped dark room for us to develop our photographs.  No need anymore - kids are rivalling Max Dupain and Olive Cotton the minute they can work out the camera app on mum's smart phone.

In music classes, recording a rehearsal was a major logistical feat, requiring separate microphones and blank recording devices, like reel to reel or cassettes.  Now we just pull out our iphones, press record and we can upload to itunes, put it in a web based file sharing system, even edit it and cut it to fit some vision and upload it to You Tube for broadcast to the world!

Doing an Arts degree majoring in Journalism at university meant that there was a lot of writing.  I was fortunate to have my mother's portable Smith and Corona typewriter to write them on.  I'd learnt to touch type early on, so my fingers flew, sometimes so quickly that the letters would get bunched and stuck and progress would stop until I manually restored the keys to their correct position.  It had a ribbon with black and red so I could do colour printing.  Accuracy was everything.  A slip of the finger and a whole page would need to be retyped.  Then someone invented little tabs of solid liquid paper.  You backspaced on the typewriter so that you were over the character you wished to correct and you held this tab of solid liquid paper above the errant letter so that the key would transfer the liquid paper onto the page; thus "whiting out" the error.  Such painstaking work.  And copies?  Carbon paper!  Oh the lining up.  Oh the black and blue fingerprint smudges on desks, chairs, white sheets....

Such a typist was I that I typed other people's assignments for money.  They paid $1.50 per A4 page.  I typed essays for engineers, medical students, dentistry students and rarely any fellow Arts students.  I discovered all kinds of things - including that I really did belong in the Arts faculty and would have been lost anywhere else!  It was good pocket money though.

I lived on campus in a residential college.  There were pay phones on each floor with a roster where you booked your space to call home.  Because of cheaper long distance rates, Sundays were very busy days on those phones.  People who wanted to call in could just forget it during busy times.  We had no mobile phones!  Gasp.  How did we live?  We couldn't send a text to make last minute arrangements (or cancel plans at the last minute).  A few people had laptops, but they were out of reach for most students and were huge and unwieldy.  I was envied because I had a little portable colour television in my room.  Now the rooms are probably Wi-Fi enabled.

In the School of Journalism, we were learning the principles of page layout on early desktop publishing systems, but still did a fair bit of cutting and pasting using actual scissors and glue.  That said, editting the College magazine was a gargantuan task of photocopying and cutting and pasting.  Radio journalism saw us using reel to reel tape and marking edits with a chinagraph pencil and then acutally cutting the tape with a scalpel and using special sticky tape to join the reel to reel tape back together again.  There was real skill and art in making the cuts and joins so that they couldn't be heard when played back.  Precision was the key, or the beginnings and ends of words could be lost.  And in the television journalism subjects, we recorded onto Betamax.  Can you imagine?

Email hadn't been invented yet.  Well, it probably had been, but only geeks who were doing doctorates in computer programming or working for the military had access to it.  None of us knew what the internet was and without google, we had to use the library or ask people.  Hours of researching newspapers was spent looking at microfiche, which was considered pretty amazing at the time.  It used to give me motion sickness.

When I took my first "proper" job in a large commonwealth government department we had a thing called Wang Mail.  (I can't even find a link for further exploration so you'll have to believe me.)  It was an early form of email.  While we all had PCs at our desks, email was still not in common usage.  This is the early 1990's.  Sending a Wang Mail was a serious business.  Permission had to be granted, following the provision of a properly researched business case.  Once permission had been granted, a slot for the actual sending had to be booked and it took overnight to arrive.  It seems incredible now. Especially when we already see a trend away from email now and towards social media (eg Twitter, facebook etc) as the growing preference for communication.

I've skipped completely over fax machines! Faxes were something that I found completely amazing - just short of teleportation that I had seen on "Star Trek".  I ended up rocking in the foetal position once when I thought too hard about how they worked.

And here I am today, writing and publishing all from my kitchen table.  Earlier today, I facilitated a course in presentation skills where I used a tiny camera to "film" people and then play back to them on a large flat screen television.  They will later receive their own DVD copy, all edited together on a PC somewhere.

I wonder what will come next?  Perhaps the paperless office that all of this was supposed to deliver.  Beam me up Scotty.


  1. and lets not forget dot matrix printers - printing a 1000 word assignment took about 20 minutes!

  2. I forgot all about them! Dot matrix printers were so noisy too. It was dot matrix printers that killed my typing business at college!
    I also forgot about the double cassette deck - a much anticipated innovation that enabled music piracy and mix tapes to thrive!

  3. Thanks for the Cuisenaire rod flashback. I loved playing with those things. But I hated it when one went missing and we weren't allowed to go to lunch till it turned up.