I’VE done a lot of television book interviews lately, and I continue to be struck at what a difference there is in the technology in just a few years’ time.
Here is a typical evening at a major cable TV network: arrive at Washington studio and be asked to sign in by a contract security guard. Be met by either a young employee who appears to still be in college or an older person who seems to have hung on with tenure. Have your nose powdered by that person. Have your microphone attached by that person. Be positioned in the studio chair by that person, and then look directly into a robotic camera being manipulated by someone in a control room in New York and speak to whoever the host is wherever he or she is. That’s it: one employee, a robot and you.
Think of how many jobs — makeup artist, receptionist, camera person, producer-director — have been collapsed into one. I raise this point because there is no doubt that the main reason for our 9.1 percent unemployment rate is the steep drop in aggregate demand in the Great Recession. But it is not the only reason. “The Great Recession” is also coinciding with — and driving — “The Great Inflection.”
In the last decade, we have gone from a connected world (thanks to the end of the cold war, globalization and the Internet) to a hyperconnected world (thanks to those same forces expanding even faster). And it matters. The connected world was a challenge to blue-collar workers in the industrialized West. They had to compete with a bigger pool of cheap labor. The hyperconnected world is now a challenge to white-collar workers. They have to compete with a bigger pool of cheap geniuses — some of whom are people and some are now robots, microchips and software-guided machines.
I wrote about the connected world in 2004, arguing that the world had gotten “flat.” When I made that argument, though, Facebook barely existed — and Twitter, cloud computing, iPhones, LinkedIn, iPads, the “applications” industry and Skype had either not been invented or were in their infancy. Now they are exploding, taking us from connected to hyperconnected. It is a huge inflection point masked by the Great Recession.
It is also both a huge challenge and opportunity. It has never been harder to find a job and never been easier — for those prepared for this world — to invent a job or find a customer. Anyone with the spark of an idea can start a company overnight, using a credit card, while accessing brains, brawn and customers anywhere. It is why Pascal Lamy, chief of the World Trade Organization, argues that terms like “made in America” or “made in China” are phasing out. The proper term, says Lamy, is “made in the world.” More products are designed everywhere, made everywhere and sold everywhere.
The term “outsourcing” is also out of date. There is no more “out” anymore. Firms can and will seek the best leaders and talent to achieve their goals anywhere in the world. Dov Seidman, is the C.E.O. of LRN, a firm that helps businesses develop principled corporate cultures, and the author of “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything.” He describes the mind-set of many C.E.O.’s he works with: “I run a global company with a global mission and one set of shared values in pursuit of global objectives. My employees are all over the world — more than half outside the U.S. — and more than half of my revenues and my plans for growth are out there, too. So you tell me: What is out and what is in anymore?”
Matt Barrie, is the founder of freelancer.com, which today lists 2.8 million freelancers offering every service you can imagine. “The whole world is connecting up now at an incredibly rapid pace,” says Barrie, and many of these people are coming to freelancer.com to offer their talents. Barrie says he describes this rising global army of freelancers the way he describes his own team: “They all have Ph.D.’s. They are poor, hungry and driven: P.H.D.”
Barrie offered me a few examples on his site right now: Someone is looking for a designer to design “a fully functioning dune buggy.” Forty people are now bidding on the job at an average price of $268. Someone is looking for an architect to design “a car-washing cafe.” Thirty-seven people are bidding on that job at an average price of $168. Someone is looking to produce “six formulations of chewing gum” suitable for the Australian market. Two people are bidding at an average price of $375. When Barrie needed a five-word speech to accept a Webby Award, he offered $1,000 for the best idea. He got 2,730 entries and accepted “The Tech Boom Is Back.” Someone looking for “a rap song to help Chinese students learn English” has three bids averaging $157.
Indeed, there is no “in” or “out” anymore. In the hyperconnected world, there is only “good” “better” and “best,” and managers and entrepreneurs everywhere now have greater access than ever to the better and best people, robots and software everywhere. Obviously, this makes it more vital than ever that we have schools elevating and inspiring more of our young people into that better and best category, because even good might not cut it anymore and average is definitely over.
Helping our students thrive in a high-tech environment
By Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.)-04/03/12 03:47 PM ET
Last month, President Obama hosted the White House Science Fair to celebrate students from across America who excel in the study of science, technology, engineering and math. One of those students was a constituent of mine, Angela Zhang, an emerging pioneer in the fields of nanotechnology and cancer treatment, from Cupertino, California.
While Angela and her peers were wowing our nation’s 44th chief executive with their imagination and industry, the details of the President’s Council of Advisers in Science and Technology (PCAST) emerged. America needs 1 million additional graduates with STEM degrees over the next decade to fill the growing number of jobs that require these skills.
I applaud President Obama’s leadership on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and the PCAST report is yet another clarion call to action. Today, too few students in America are inspired and equipped to serve as the world’s next generation of innovators. For example, one Silicon Valley leader, the Oracle Corp., currently has 1,500 high-paying jobs it cannot fill due to a shortage of STEM-trained professionals. Our nation cannot hope to forge a 21st-century workforce ready to dream big, innovate and win on the global scene if we do not meet this million-student challenge. America needs a bold strategy that brings the public and private sectors together on an urgent national mission. Congress must join with the president to help inspire and equip 1 million STEM students today, so they might be the Sally Rides and Steve Jobses of tomorrow.
Last winter, I introduced the STEM Education Innovation Act of 2011 (H.R. 3373). This legislation advances three key principles to help forge a national mission on STEM education. On a federal level, it creates an Office of STEM Education within the Department of Education to integrate, coordinate and improve the department’s K-12 and higher-education STEM educational efforts. On a state level, it institutes a State Consortium on STEM Education to take the lead in shaping best practices in STEM education. These consortiums are crucial in creating strong regional and state opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. On a classroom level, my bill establishes the Educational Innovation Project to forge partnerships with nonprofits, foundations and companies that develop teaching-technology innovations.
The Education Innovation Project ensures that American classrooms are squarely on the cutting edge. Based on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the project’s mission is to develop novel and transformational technology for the classroom to provide each student with the resources necessary to be innovative and inventive. Each student can thrive in such a high-tech environment focused on problem-based learning, critical thinking and action-based research. Beyond training a new generation of American workers ready to win the global competitiveness race, the public-private partnerships created by the innovation project will drive current job creation as companies strive to meet the tech needs of schools all across America.
My next piece of STEM legislation will focus on STEM educators. Partnering with undergraduate institutions, this legislation will develop STEM competencies and leadership qualities to forge an entire new generation of teachers. This legislation will also focus on pre-K through sixth-grade teachers to produce elementary educators with competencies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. With this firm foundation in place, children will have the necessary skills and experiences to thrive in STEM subjects when they reach middle and senior high school grades.
As a science teacher, principal and educator of more than 30 years, I know that American greatness is born in our schools. STEM education in our classrooms put a man on the moon and created the Internet, and it is the key to America’s future.
I am inspired by my constituent Angela Chang’s excellence in science and technology. I am also driven to lead on STEM education because of countless other students, particularly in underserved and underrepresented communities, who dream of being global innovators. My mission, our nation’s mission, must be to guarantee that those dreams become reality, thereby ensuring that America remains the global leader in technology and innovation.Honda is Silicon Valley’s representative in Congress. He is the Budget Task Force chairman for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the author of The Budget for All, and a member of the House Appropriations and Budget committees. Honda is also responsible for the creation of the Commission on Equity and Excellence in Education, now housed within the Department of Education.