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Thursday, October 8, 2015

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Obsolete.

I was at a conference recently, where I got to hear a young woman (around my age) talk about generational "differences," and how older folks could entice young people and recent college graduates to come to work for them. She was discussing how Gen Y (or Gen i, or Gen Z, or "Millennials") prefer a flexible schedule in the workplace, and that if current CEOs want to recruit this younger generation, they'll have to adapt. Or as she stated in her talk, "You risk losing access to a big pool of talent." Immediately, an older gentleman fired back, "So what? If I say the workday starts at 8:00, you should be in your chair at 8:00I I mean, even banks open at 8:30am - and that's just not going to change!" In one fell swoop, he revealed his generational achilles' heel. However, I think generational comparisons are utterly useless. Why? As the DJ says, "What we're gonna do right here is go back..."

The letterpress, beginning with Gutenberg in the 15th century, was a force to be reckoned with. Books, periodicals, magazines, letters and so forth could be duplicated and distributed in rapid succession. Prior to that, books were painstakingly printed by hand, page after page. Information was now and forever going to be in the hands of the people. The letterpress didn't start to fade until the early-mid 20th century, when offset printing first came into being. Think about that for a minute. The letterpress, and all its many incarnations, ruled the printing landscape for over 400 years. For 400 years, that was how people did business. There were press operators, typesetters, and illustrators who day and night ran the machines and created what people saw in print. And even in the 20th century, when offset printing and photo-typesetting dominated the market, many, many people were still necessary to keep things running smoothly.

Then Apple Computer released the Macintosh in 1984, the second commercially available computer (Apple's "Lisa" was the first) with what we now know as a "graphical user interface" or GUI (ie. point, click, drag, mouse, desktop, windows, etc). They got Ridley Scott to do a REALLY cool Superbowl commercial for it. My dad actually bought one of the first "Fat Macs" (meaning it had 512K of on-board memory, instead of 128K) in 1985, with an Imagewriter II printer and an external floppy disk drive. People laughed it off as a "toy," and business types wouldn't come near it. But by the time I had graduated from the College of Design at NC State in 1996, Macs had overtaken the graphic design industry. The idea of hundreds of separate individuals doing the layout, typesetting, illustrations, and photography was ludicrous. One person could now wear all those hats pretty effectively, and in college that's what we were taught to do.

At the same time, the music business was changing. Prior to the 1990s, most indie rock bands released singles and albums on 7" vinyl or cassette. Certainly in the DJ business, vinyl was (and in some areas, remains) the standard. Even CD duplication on a large scale was costly. The "Big 5" record labels were the gate keepers of the business, controlling everything from distribution chains, to stores, to venues, to recording studios. And for an unsigned band trying to record a new album or song, going into a recording studio meant spending thousands of dollars - and with limited funds came limited studio time. Recording music to hard disk for many years was simply not possible, especially for independent artists. Reel to reel was the standard for most of the 20th century. Even I recorded my first album "Breakup" to Alesis ADAT tape, using an old Mac Performa to arrange simple MIDI parts while my producer sat at the soundboard for hours, both of us tweaking until we got the thing just right. Prior to that, I used a Tascam Portastudio (a 4-track cassette recorder) and a Boss drum machine to make demos in my dorm room.

Skip ahead 15 more years. My iPhone (also an Apple product), which is probably smaller than the size of an old cassette walkman, can take hi-definition video, hi-resolution photos that are on par with some of the best point-and-shoot cameras out there (and in some cases, even standard-bearing 35mm cameras), store the entirety of my musical collection (as in every song I've ever listened to, since birth), and instantly communicate with anyone on earth, in almost every form you can imagine - phone, email, text, instant message, video conference, you name it. From my home studio (anchored by a Mac Pro tower), I can write, arrange, record, produce, master AND distribute music I create, instantly. I can then design, code, and market a website to promote that music - all from the same computer which I produced the music on. In fact, I could do all of the above on my 6-year-old Mac laptop.

As of August 2012, Apple is the largest publicly-traded corporation in the world. Their market cap is larger than that of Google and Microsoft combined, and within a space of about 20 years, they irrevocably changed the printing, publishing and music industries. Whole market sectors were rendered obsolete, and many people found themselves out of work. Meanwhile, iTunes, Spotify and Pandora now dominate the musical landscape, and what's left of the music industry is floundering. Save for a few independent college music and used CD stores, standalone music retailers are a thing of the past. How the mighty have fallen.

Of course, Apple's day could be just around the corner also. And that's my point. Technology is changing so quickly that the idea of any one industry lasting for 400 years - or even 50 - is now itself an obsolete concept. As a member of "Generation X," a graphic designer and musician, I've been witness to almost all of it. I didn't have the internet growing up, or cell phones, or email. My grandmother, up until her passing in 2010, hand-wrote me a letter a week, and then a letter a month for as long as I could remember. Friends who did internships or study abroad programs had to communicate with letters as well, because long-distance phone calls were simply too expensive and again, we really had no access to email. Because I was in a profession being driven by technology, I either had to adapt or become obsolete myself. That's not a generational concept, that's simply a matter of survival. If I don't work, I can't eat. And I can't work unless I continue to stay ahead of the curve.

I was raised to believe that I would find one career path, one job, one company and that they would take care of me until retirement. That's what I've wanted for almost my entire life, but because of outsourcing, down-sizing, and contract labor - it probably won't be a reality. And for those younger than me, it's even more applicable. They've grown up with instantaneous communication, instant gratification, and immediacy of control - because that's the system that was created for them, by those who came before them. They've watched their moms, dads, older brothers and sisters work themselves to death under the old(er) system and receive peanuts in return. They don't care about brink-and-mortar storefronts, or cubicle farms like the ones represented in "Office Space." They (or anyone else, for that matter) can conduct their business at any time of day or night, in business casual or their birthday suit, all from the comfort of their own bedroom.

Generational stereotyping is dangerous because longevity gives us a false sense of security. The bottom line is that technology is not generational, and is constantly changing, upgrading, revising. Innovation can happen anywhere, at anytime, by anyone with the ability to do it - old or young. If you take comfort in the fact that the banks will continue to open for business every day at 8:30am, think again. If you take comfort in the fact that your entitlements will save you, think again. You won't simply be out of work, or laid off, or forced to take early retirement.

You will be obsolete.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More learning...

Many moons ago, I found myself reading these two articles online.

First up:
"The modern tech CEO: Barefoot and 21" by John D. Sutter
http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/innovation/11/02/seth.priebatsch.scvngr/index.html

Seth Priebatsch dropped out of Princeton to create SCVNGR, and Peter Bell (from the firm Highland Capital Partners) gave Seth $730,000 for the business in December 2008.

And this one:
"College is a waste of time" by Dale Stephens
http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/06/03/stephens.college/index.html?iref=NS1

From the introduction:
"Dale J. Stephens is a 19-year-old entrepreneur leading UnCollege, a social movement supporting self-directed higher education and building RadMatter, a platform to demonstrate talent. He is among the first recipients of the Thiel Fellowship, an initiative by venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel that gives 20 entrepreneurs under 20 years old $100,000 to fund their projects."

And from his article:
"I have been awarded a golden ticket to the heart of Silicon Valley: the Thiel Fellowship. The catch? For two years, I cannot be enrolled as a full-time student at an academic institution. For me, that's not an issue; I believe higher education is broken. I left college two months ago because it rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application. Our creativity, innovation and curiosity are schooled out of us."

To be perfectly frank, at the time I was looking for examples of people who felt that college had become a joke. I really didn't enjoy my time in college very much. I miss things about college - the friends I had, the experiences I had outside the classroom, etc. - but cared very little about my studies. My freshman year, my first Design Fundamentals professor took me out on the back balcony of Leazar Hall at NC State and told me that I "might want to consider switching majors." I had endured a selection process that was weeded down from over 3,000 applications to less than 100, and now suddenly I'm not meant for the program? At that point, my confidence was shot.

I attended an in-state university. I now work for a different university in the same state. My father has been a professor at a state university for almost 40 years. So I think I speak from a position of experience when I say that universities are some of the most wasteful places on earth. An entire department within the university (a department I used to work for) was dissolved to save money, and yet they continue to spend millions on new buildings.

Now, watch to this report from 60 Minutes on Freeman Hrabowski. It's good to know that some people still care about the *idea* of education.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Learning.

Today I'm reflecting on turning 38 years old. And learning.

Last night I saw Queensryche with one of my old college roommates. We were both metalheads, and in fact the last time we both saw Queensryche was in 1994 in support of the "Promised Land" album. Afterwards we talked about old times, what happened during the 17 years in-between, and what our plans are going forward. I felt a small piece of myself returning, some innocence and excitement about live music I had lost along the way. Mostly, I remembered what it was like to be in college.

Growing up I hated school. I was a good student, but I was a daydreamer. I was also bullied pretty relentlessly in middle school and high school by a few select folks. I grew to hate being in school, and by association, "learning." I could never keep my mind on my studies because I was constantly afraid of ridicule or injury. The fear that I came to live with in high school carried over into college. While I wasn't bullied, I was simply going through the motions of finishing my degree, and once I joined a band and actually recorded in a professional studio, I realized music was what I truly cared about. I can tell you that today my opinion is that I'll never set foot in a classroom again. It's just too much to think about.

But what I've come to understand is that TRUE learning happens every minute, of every day...all around us. I've learned more about myself and grown more as a person in the last 2 years than I have at any point in my life prior. I've learned on the job, behind the wheel of a car, all alone in my studio, and even in the depths of my deepest despair. I'm grateful to still be "teachable." And I'm grateful for the humility that comes with it.