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Green: Some of us won’t create the next Instagram

Hannah Green

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A few weeks ago I was talking to one of my roommates, agonizing about whether or not and how I would go to grad school. He told me that I should forget about it and think of a really great idea for an iPhone app. Unemployment for workers under 25 is at 16.4 percent, compared with 8.1 percent overall. These figures are scary, and a lot of people are now putting their hopes for employment into various cyber jobs and into Internet entrepreneurship, whether or not that’s their area of expertise. A recent article in Reuters described how a graduate from American University with a degree in justice was relieved to get an IT job at IBM. The same article said that hope for recent college grads could be found in companies like GE, Amazon and Apple. If these kinds of enterprises help a lot of us pay our rent, then that’s great. But it doesn’t make sense for all of us to put our eggs into the same wireless basket. The thing is, though making money is a lot of my concern, I still also hope that I will be able to keep using what I’m learning in college now. Right now I am studying history and foreign languages, and I both enjoy it and think it’s important. I don’t want to forget about all that so that I can learn Java and get a job at Apple or a startup company. But that’s what every article deploring the situation of recent graduates in the current economy says I have to do. A recent article in The New York Times described two recent for-youth-by-youth initiatives intended to uplift Generation Y. One of these, Fix Young America, hopes to encourage student loan forgiveness for graduates who start businesses that create jobs, and to create a website that would allow young people to learn programming codes online. These initiatives could be great ideas for people interested in careers in Internet startups. But I don’t think it would be good for anybody if everyone worried about their future jumped on the same bandwagon. The world is already full of brilliant computer scientists, and many of them make all of our lives easier. The idea that anyone would want me to become another programmer or website designer or whatever seems strange. I doubt I’d be good at it, and I doubt I’d contribute much. But I resist these enterprising cyber career opportunities not only because I find the idea of learning computer science skills daunting and a little depressing. The idea of a world where in-depth knowledge of history and humanity is considered a luxury and not a necessity is quite scary. Given everything that the United States is doing now, involving itself with countries and cultures that the vast majority of Americans neither appreciate nor understand, it’s really, really scary. We should be encouraged to learn about the histories and languages of countries whose futures are entangled with our own. Instead we’re getting the impression that these subject matters are a bit of an indulgence and that we should be focusing on what really matters: finding the easiest way possible to get a job. But, at least for now, that’s just how the market works. And if humanities students need a minimum level of technological savvy in order to make it, that’s OK. If I need to learn to understand Twitter in order to succeed, and if HTML becomes as standard a skill as typing, I can live with that. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to know how to program computers to the exclusion of knowing history, foreign languages and literature. At this point that’s not what’s happening, but current college students are being told to avoid the humanities and social sciences. Young people who are continuing to pursue the humanities are accepting unpaid work these days. If we humanities and social sciences grads are going to keep using what we’ve been learning, we’re going to need to figure out a way to get paid to do it. There has to be a way to use youthful creativity to build demand for our skill as well. Hannah Green is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at hannahgreen2012@u.northwestern.edu

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