“You're a humanist? Do you actually ever learn anything practical? You know, real world stuff?” How many of you have heard something similar to this before? It's easy to see where this kind of attitude comes from. The skills we learn and nurture in humanist studies aren't always as easy to relate to the “real world” as those learned by a scientist or an engineer. Indeed, it seems like we humanists are often the first to suffer when it comes to budget cuts or questions about what classes are more important than others; the general opinion seems to be that arts are secondary to more “proper subjects”.
I don't mean this to be a humanist manifesto and you don't even have to be a humanist to understand what I'm talking about. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have come across people that ridicule us for pursuing something that may seem like a waste of time to those more interested in learning practical skills. However, all of that time you might've spent nurturing your creative side might actually help you far more than you could've ever imagined.
I recently watched a video lecture entitled “That Used to be US”. The lecture, given by two Americans, was about the decline of America and they stressed that one of the bigger problems facing Americans these days is the one-two combo of globalization and revolutions in the information technology. We, as a world, are more connected than we've ever been and there have been significant leaps during the past few years alone. Since 2004, the world has gotten Twitter, Skype, Facebook, and iPhones full of various apps. Imagine how different the world was just eight years ago and imagine how different it could be eight years from now.
With all of these revolutions in technology, jobs are disappearing for good. All of these technological revolutions have, in some ways, made our lives a lot easier by streamlining things but, in a way, our lives are also going to be much more difficult now. It's not just the fact that technology can now do jobs that previously required humans but, because the world is so connected now, we also face far more human competition than we used to. People from around the world can apply for your spot at the university or your job just as easily as sending an email. The gentlemen in the video summed up the problem by saying this: older generations had to find a job but new generations are going to have to invent a job. In essence, we're going to have to start being consistently more innovative in order to keep our jobs relevant. We're going to need to specialize in non-routine skills, i.e. things that cannot be described by an algorithm.
Basically all of this adds up to stressing something that we haven't necessarily stressed as much in the past: creativity. And this brings me back to my original discussion about being a humanist. As humanists, we specialize in creativity! We study the creative and immerse ourselves in that world; many of us are highly talented people in the traditional sense of the word creative. However, I think it's important to stress that being creative can mean other things than just being a gifted musician or artist. Essentially, we all make creative choices every day, some of them are more minor than others. Deciding what to wear that day may seem like a minor thing most of the time but it is, in itself, a creative process. Deciding how to structure that 4,000 word essay is a creative process as well. People in general are making creative choices all of the time but we have an advantage. Deep down, we already know the importance of creativity; there's a reason we study it. Again, this is not to say that those people studying the sciences should think any less of themselves. What they do is important and more power to them for it.
This is also not to say that being creative alone is going to let you accomplish your wildest dreams; it will take more than that. What this is, is more a reminder to the world in general not to undermine those of us who may be studying something that isn't as obvious in its usefulness or, in other words, is useful in a more unconventional way. We're preparing our minds for a new kind of world: a world where there is no such thing as “average”. Being simply good at your job won't cut it for much longer. So indulge your creative side; write that poem, shoot that film, write for BTSB (you're welcome, editors) play that instrument, or even just try something new. Anything! By no means am I an expert on any of this and some of you might be wondering who am I to say all of this, and perhaps rightly so. I'm not attempting to revolutionize anything. I might not even be telling you anything new. I do hope, however, that I've gotten you to think about the future in the same way that the “That Used to be US” video prompted me. There may be times where you feel that you're stuck in a rut but as long as you continue to nurture your creative side, you'll always be progressing towards the future.
If any of you are interested in watching the “That Used to be US” lecture, you can find it here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/301796-1