Monday, 28 April 2014

Why You Shouldn't Fear Becoming Obsolete in the Post-Work World

I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day about the "post-work world". 

There are a lot of factors and considerations that come into play with this concept (which you can read more about here), but part of the idea is that as technology continues to advance, more and more tasks will become automated and as a result vastly reduce the necessity for human workers to accomplish tasks. Now in theory this sounds great, but in an era where steady work seems to be slowly disappearing, it can also be really scary, especially for those of us working in technology-driven fields.

Last month I attended the film and interactive portions of the South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX and was completely blown away by much of what I saw on display in the gaming center. For example, I saw motion capture setups that no longer require extensive set ups and equipment, but merely a computer, a Kinect or comparable device, and free or reasonably-priced software that produced top quality animations almost immediately. I was particularly impressed with the fluid, real-time effects capabilities of FaceShift.

There were many other new products that automatically accomplish what would take me an absurd amount of time to accomplish manually, and that I didn’t even know existed. As an animator, I found myself thinking of that great exchange between Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park:

Dr. Alan Grant: We’re out of a job.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Don’t you mean extinct?

I have been learning as much as I can about these modern miracles in my free time, but at 28 years of age I’m already an old man in my field. Already I’m comparing myself to the stop motion animators who feared their entire skill set had become obsolete following the release of Jurassic Park.

However, as it usually does, my brain tumbled down the rabbit hole and eventually I found myself reflecting on our early human and pre-human ancestors who for thousands and thousands of years did little but hunt, gather, and look for shelter. Then came the agricultural revolution and I started wondering, “What did Grog do when people started growing food around permanent settlements? Did he think to himself ‘What me do now? I are obsolete!’”

The answer, of course, is no, and I think the same still holds true today. Once freed from the shackles of previous requirements, mankind has always been free to pursue more interesting and creative endeavors. Until agriculture, we couldn’t have formed societies, and until societies we couldn’t have had art, and so on and so on.

Due to our species’ seemingly incurable addiction to taking ourselves too seriously, the things that didn’t exist yesterday are the things we need today, and we have a tendency to feel threatened by the ever-changing landscape. But it can be easy to get behind the times and feel lost when those darned kids start playing with their newfangled whatchamacallits and thingamajigs.

However, I'm optimistic, and unlike Dr. Grant, I’m feeling less and less like I’m going to go extinct. Soon, when many of the time consuming tasks of today will be automatically taken care of thanks to new technology, I’ll be free to focus much more on the aesthetic and creative parts of my work, which is really why I started working in this field to begin with. Just because painters are no longer the principal creators of visual media doesn’t mean that art is dead. On the contrary, art is thriving more than ever. Media is everywhere. As a result, there is so much more work to be done for those curious souls who are nimble of mind and playful in spirit.

And so, in conclusion, while change will always be dangerous, those who accept the constant flux of technology and nurture a desire to experience whatever is coming next have little to worry about. It seems evident that the principals Darwin wrote about apply not only to biology and sociology, but can be applied to occupational challenges as well. A common misunderstanding of the evolutionary theory is that “only the strong survive,” which isn’t really accurate in any of the aforementioned categories. A better summation of the idea is that the ability to adapt provides a significant advantage in the fight for survival. There will always be work that needs done, and it’s just getting more and more fascinating.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what’s next. (And I’m still holding out to see a raptor some day!)

What do YOU think? How does a willingness to adapt affect the market you work in? Have you gone through a similar experience of feeling obsolete before making the brave leap into the “next big thing”? 

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