The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why we still need humanities degrees, Tech Forum edition

I'm in Phoenix for my company's Tech Forum, where all the technology professionals come together for a few days of panel discussions and heavy drinking networking events. This morning's lineup, including the keynote speaker, emphasized to me the dangers in the United States' declining ability to teach kids English and history.

I will have more details later, but for now I'll mention these three things. First, if you show the ubiquitous graph of the growing gap between productivity and wages that the US and UK have experienced since the mid-1970s and blame technology for this gap, I'm going to point you to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and the history of capitalism as possibly contributing factors. I mean, there was a similar wage-productivity gap in the southern US from about 1800 to 1865, which technology certainly made possible, but ultimately public policy had a lot more to do with it.

Second, if you present your company's most exciting new AI technology, and someone in the audience asks you if you can show some non-scripted input, saying "no" calls your entire presentation into question. But that's OK; it was already the most boring presentation on an exciting topic I'd seen in years, so I the guy may have challenged them to go off-script with less-than-honorable intentions.

Finally, to the junior developer presenting for the first time to other professionals: if your slide has content on it obviously copied and pasted from the previous slide, your colleagues will forgive you with a little razzing. If you then cannot for the life of you figure out what the content should be, your colleagues—particularly the more senior ones—will think you've blown off your homework and as a consequence your presentation has wasted their time. Because what am I learning from you anyway, if you have not learned it yourself?

What does this have to do with humanities education? I guarantee all of these presenters were engineers without much history or English study, and their lack of breadth showed.

Next up: the "Sonora Desert Hike" experience, with 45 of my best friends. It's cool and cloudy right now so I anticipate I will enjoy it immensely.

Comments (2) -

  • David Harper

    3/10/2023 7:02:38 AM +00:00 |

    Cut the junior developer some slack. I still remember my first public presentation vividly. It was almost forty years ago, in the overhead projector and acetate sheet era, and it was part of my undergraduate final-year project assessment. I had to give a 20-minute presentation on my project to the entire astronomy department. All the professors were there. So were many of my fellow students. My mouth was dry from about 30 seconds into the talk, and my heart was pounding. It was terrifying.

    Since then, I've given hundreds of professional presentations in many different settings. It's no longer terrifying. But I still occasionally screw up with a slide. Who doesn't, if we're being honest? Being able to recover from a screw-up has nothing to do with having a humanities education. It comes from experience. And a more humane response would have been to try to help that poor junior developer to recover from their mistake.

  • The Daily Parker

    3/10/2023 5:03:47 PM +00:00 |

    You're not wrong. I didn't lose patience with him because of the messed-up slide; I lost patience with him because of the lack of sufficient preparation to know what he was presenting. I've also screwed up from time to time, believe me, but I've gotten better in part because more senior people took me to task for it.

Comments are closed