I wax philosophically in these purges of my grey matter each year, and the realisation as a parent that the next phase of my eldest child’s life has been thrust upon me when I wasn’t ready, as I expect no parent ever really is, might mean that the wax gets pretty thick this time around. Brace yourselves, there is probably a centuries old quote coming!
Things are moving fast these days, technologically and scientifically, and it’s likely we’re in the midst of, or on the cusp of, a new revolution, which brings with it significant cultural change. The generation entering the workforce now are entering a market where they may never work one single job, they may work many, they may even be working well before the traditional age of work via some form of social media platform or other. How do I counsel my child, as I was counselled, that “you need something to fall back on”? For the record, I very much did need something to fall back on because the plan for rock stardom was somehow derailed. Whoda thunk it?
The next generation may have fall backs for their fall-backs, not because we told them to, but because they’re entering the “gig economy” and have no expectations or preconceptions that former generations had, that of a “job for life”. The “gig economy”, a number of jobs spread across one or more industries or mediums, has existed in many forms for a long time, think freelancers etc. The emergence of the internet has given rise to a new kind of “freelancer”, no longer pursuing necessarily one medium or set of skills, but many, across many platforms for a wide “client” base.
I was introduced to a platform called Twitch.tv more formally this past year, and begun to take special note when a personality our children followed on the ABC quit his full time job of 11 years with the nation’s broadcaster to become a full time “streamer”. He has been able to do so because his approach goes beyond playing games while people watch. He’s added a unique approach, a significant amount of behind-the-scenes video editing work which is incorporated in to the live stream, and other skills and talents he possesses. There are significant artistic and creative elements at play. Just when I was coming to grips with how much money some YouTubers pull in, my kids have stopped watching the YouTubers in favour of Twitchers (probably NOT the vernacular!) There’s little question that with his popularity he will supplement that streaming income from Twitch with merchandise sales and live performance fees, and more.
I’ve watched on with great admiration and interest as a friend of mine has been recording, producing and developing separate podcasts and other skills, some of them completely unrelated to one another, as he works his way toward fulfilling a desire to become self employed via those pursuits, and each one has some sort of artistic element or unique approach that sets him apart from others.
I’ve been self-employed essentially my whole working life, in one capacity or another, so am always nervous for those who embark on such a lifestyle after coming from secure employment, but I can’t help but feel excited for those who are pursuing the reality of self-employment in this new gig economy. The two people I just made reference to are in their 30s. Those entering the fray now are no doubt making some of their way with income generated from things those thirty-somethings and I have yet to wrap our heads around, or perhaps have even heard of.
It all moves so quickly, yet it is somehow cohesive, and conducive to those earning their livelihoods to move with it. When tectonic shifts in industry occurred throughout history it had devastating effects, but it’s as though tectonic shifts in the internet economy are understood and, whilst not knowing where and how those shifts will come, anticipated. For all the faults we old folk lay on the younger generation, they certainly have us beat when it comes to making Silicon Valley and VC whales fear their whims and wills.
Last Christmas I wrote of the music industry, the renaissance it has been undergoing, and the professions and associated industries that exist to support it. The music industry, despite being controlled at the top end by a very few large companies, has art at its heart, and without that art those companies cease to exist. There’s this push and pull that has gone on for decades where the bean counters push and the art pushes back, and will go on until humanity is no longer moved by music. If that ever happened, we’d have more to worry about than Universal’s stake in Spotify, it would herald the end of civilisation!
The same seems to apply to the new economy online. Twitch is Amazon owned. YouTube is Google’s. Podcasts are largely the domain of Apple. These are gargantuan companies, but when they push too far, they get pulled up very quickly. There are many online platforms that have bitten the dust in the past decade, millions upon millions of dollars couldn’t guarantee their survival in the game. Both Microsoft and Google have tried, more than once, to create social media platforms and music services, but have been rejected each time. It’s as though those who they need to adopt these services for them to succeed have decided en masse but without collaboration, “you have enough, we’re not giving you any more”.
The great beauty, as I see it, of much of this new, internet driven, economy, is the art that is at its core, the invention, the imagination, the creativity.
Galileo Galilei, a man who's work almost single-handedly spawned the most significant scientific revolution in history, wrote in 1632 in his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican:
"To apply oneself to great inventions, starting from the smallest beginnings, is no task for ordinary minds; to divine that wonderful arts lie hid behind trivial and childish things is a conception for superhuman talents."
Galileo wasn't seen as a philosopher as we know it today, he was a scientist. And he wasn't necessarily referring to traditional scientific breakthroughs with this quote either, rather his admiration and respect for those that have a crack, and have a crack in the face of doubt or even ridicule from other quarters, no matter their pursuits.
The longer quote goes:
“I do not doubt that in the course of time this new science will be improved by further observations, and still more by true and conclusive proofs. But this need not diminish the glory of the first observer. My regard for the inventor of the harp is not made less by knowing that his instrument was very crudely constructed and still more crudely played. Rather, I admire him more than I do the hundreds of craftsmen who in ensuing centuries have brought this art to the highest perfection. To apply oneself to great inventions, starting from the smallest beginnings, is no task for ordinary minds; to divine that wonderful arts lie hid behind trivial and childish things is a conception for superhuman talents.”
Without imagination and art, there is no invention. Invention promotes further invention. Whilst there’s much to be fearful of for our children as they enter the adult world, there’s much to be excited about also. Less of their generation will be reluctant to express themselves through invention than was ever the case, and the tools they have to share and collaborate have never been more primed for that purpose. And they’ll invent yet more tools.
Colin Wilson, author of the 1956 book The Outsider which explores the role of the social outsider in literary works by H.G. Wells, Jean-Paul Sartre, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and others, said “Imagination should be used, not to escape reality, but to create it.”
I truly wish for a safe and happy festive season, for you and all your families and friends. If you’re afforded the opportunity to have some time off, take the lack of distraction as an opportunity to let your imagination lead to invention, for your art, or other interests you may enjoy. If you’re not afforded time off, may you still find time to let your imagination ponder some new reality or creation.
Be safe, and cherish and celebrate those you love and who love you.
- Lefty ESP Overlord. Proprietor of the Leftorium – Sydney
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I shall think on it, some.