“The Future”: or, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the death of American Engineering”

So Mark and I were swapping e-mail after my “Fun” post. I went off into my typical sob about “ for the vast majority of us, if we’re not really loving being out there, there’s not a whole lot of reason to do it, especially given the whole time and money sink that lots of fitness activities are. (it was) really liberating for me to hear this attitude, especially after a year of reading books implying that running/marathon/whatever was SO important, then getting the big anti-climax.”

Mark came back with

Hey, I am ALL about fun. In fact, I have a Bachelor of Arts in Recreation Administration – so does Beverly of One Step at a Time. (NB – Beverly also has kids that love ZooBooMooFoo, or one of the few unquestionably worthwhile shows on the idiot box) The degree gave me a philosophy of Fun, Play, Leisure and Recreation that permeates my life still. … Fun, discovery, growth and passion. That’s what life’s all about.

Which made me realize that there’s a big part of me that wishes I’d done something more like RA than Engineering. So I didn’t make the “Would you like fries with that?” joke…

There’s a line at the beginning of Neal Stephenson’sSnow Crash” (which if you haven’t read it – well, you should. First, it’s a way to dip your toe into Stephenson without committing to the 900 page “Cryptonomicon” or one of the 1000 page volumes of the “Baroque Cycle“, and Stephenson will be looked back on as the Twain of the 20th century. Second, “Snow Crash” is remarkably prescient about the way the internet and culture in general seems to be going – life broken up into a series of incorporated “franchiculates” instead of larger nations … interesting take. Is this parenthetical long enough? I think so.) where he says that the only things that the US (i know, Canada and all, but bear with) is good at are Movies, writing code, and high-speed pizza delivery. I’d probably modify that to be “Entertainment, creating new memes, and affordable cuisine”.

But the point he’s making is kind of a larger one – hard research and engineering have been refined to the point where that kind of creativity 1) can be taught to anyone, anywhere in the world; and 2) done cheaply almost anywhere (especially if anywhere’s environmental laws are not as restrictive as those in Western Europe and North America). Which sucks for guys like me. What’s even worse is that my fallback is an MBA, and business is even easier to learn than engineering.

Where the opportunity opens up is for people with a background soft skills , and the chance to sell … well, let’s say “fulfillment” for lack of time to come up with a more accurate term … “fulfillment” to the 3 billion or so soon-to-be middle-class engineering and middle-management types that are taking the lessons of the 20th century and applying them in China and India and places which were until recently associated only with crushing poverty and tragic disease. These places are soon to create the largest explosion of wealth and desire for leisure that the world has ever seen.

It does not matter that companies like Intel and Microsoft are moving offshore. It especially doesn’t matter that GM is not long for the earth, or that traditional airlines can’t make money. All of that is old industry, codified in textbooks and easily translatable into any language on earth, and able to be done more cheaply wherever the books can be read.

(Want to make a mint at somewhat of a high risk? Start laying fiber in Africa, especially if the UN goes through with this $100 laptop deal. Much like Levis and Coke turned all but the true-believer Soviets into capitalists in the space of a decade, IM, e-mail, and http are going to turn isolated pockets in Africa into folks who see that life doesn’t have to be muddy and malarial. Serve up even ’20s and ’30s-era agricultural material that’s passed into the public domain, and watch a little knowledge work miracles. You may not need the bullet if you’ve got the ballot, but it’s important to get a bushel of grain in every belly first. In any case, Africa’s going to skip the industralization that took 200 years to run its course with us Norte Americanos and Europeans, and will play out in about 50 years total in Asia. Africa’s going straight to the 22nd century.)

What I’ve been meaning to say is that you’re completely right “Fun, discovery, growth and passion. That’s what life’s all about”. Darn Straight. And the “Next Big Thing” is selling that to the 3 billion people who are about to learn that food in the fridge and a good job at a good wage still leave an empty spot in the soul.

Sorry, no real running news today. But exercising the mind is fun, too, right?

5 thoughts on ““The Future”: or, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the death of American Engineering””

  1. Great thoughts there. Working in
    therapeutic recreation, my philosophy
    is that there’s a huge difference between
    existing and living.

    And, I’m pretty sure my daughter’s
    massive crush on Chris Kratt, and my sons’
    preoccupations with lemurs, is related to
    my Rec Admin degree ….. lol … :)

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