We live in the “Information Age”, where it’s possible to get any information, on any subject, anywhere in the world, in less than one minute. Some of my classmates posited that “Information Age” doesn’t equal “Knowledge Age”. And, while I agree with this to some extent, I have to say, technology has leveled the playing field. Case in point: the picture at the top of the post.
Technology has made everything better, faster, and cheaper, including learning. My husband purchased his professional-grade camera and lenses for a few thousand dollars, and a light kit for less than $1k. For a total of about $3,000, total amateurs can set up a studio almost anywhere. Then there’s my contribution, complete with modeling techniques gleaned from a few episodes of “America’s Next Top Model” (you know you see the difference when you schmize, don’t lie!), make-up techniques from around the web, and super convenient hot rollers (vs. the heated metal rods of yesteryear, I can just smell the hair burning!). We then used an open-source software called GIMP to edit the photos, and we’re now sharing them with the world via the free gallery, SmugMug. You don’t have to be a “professional” to get magazine-quality photos anymore.
And it’s not just pictures or “frivolous” endeavors. Take TurboTax and QuickBooks, software programs that allow most anyone to process a simple tax return. Or email and Skype, functions that allow companies to go global from a single conference room. My husband has fixed our dishwasher and rebuilt a toilet after watching a few instructional YouTube videos. Programs like Band in a Box allow you to create music for multiple instruments, and composition software makes it easy to transpose and update the melodies in your head. Airplanes have made travel cheap, easy, and fast… I can literally fly around the world in a day. That’s INCREDIBLE.
So, with all that technology enables common laypeople to do, what’s the point of a fancy degree or hiring a professional? First, there are certainly areas that require specialized training, like medicine. Would you want a surgeon that learned how to clip a brain aneurysm via YouTube? Other professions that deal with government regulations definitely require some standard, so I think it’s reasonable to require a law degree, accounting degree, or pilot’s license. I do think that many professions outside of creative endeavors still need some objective standard, and the licensing and educational requirements ensure safety and accuracy. But the creative professions? I think it’s becoming a free for all, and technology has definitely leveled the playing field. You don’t have to have access to expensive printing presses and hazardous chemicals to achieve quality pictures. You don’t have to have a private recording studio, a fancy sound man, or a huge label to make and share music. This is not to say that you don’t have to have skills and talent, but the “who you know” or prohibitive equipment costs create less of a barrier to entry. The thing is, though, that with so much free information available, it’s also easier to gain the knowledge and skills! You don’t have to take an apprenticeship or spend years learning a specialized piece of equipment anymore, and you can experiment with things cheaply to learn.
I’ve been blown away recently by how much technology has leveled the playing field, both in the professional and personal spheres. I think that as technology enables learning and use, the market is going to start favoring those with the ellusive-to-quantify “people skills”, “management skills”, “spark/charisma/creativity”, and generally qualities/talents that are much more difficult to learn. If anyone can differentiate themselves via technology, what’s the limiting factor in today’s society?