Maureen's Question

If you were 25-30 TODAY, in our world as it is, what career might you choose?
Money and earning power is not an issue, getting into the college of your choice is already done.
This is a question of how would you want to spend your time, contribute, explore, engage.
What sphere, arena, subject would call to you? AI? Space? Medicine? Psychology?
The world has changed so much since we actually had to think about this, some 50 years ago,
what would draw us today?

Here's what I wrote down, more or less in the order it came to me:

50-odd years ago I said to somebody that I'd be a Reference Librarian if I had it to do all over again. And 30 years ago I took the leap into exactly that, though I considered that I remained an anthropologist, just in another venue. Neither of those careers fits very well with the world of 2023. I also said, 50 years ago, that I intended to be a TEACHER in a liberal arts environment. That would be a foolish choice in 2023... which is to say that so much has changed over that 50 years that I'm out of touch entirely...

If I were to follow an academic path, the discipline that I now find most attractive is Geography, or perhaps Geology (the former scarcely exists, and the latter means working for USGS or the oil industry, so no...). But Academe is an impossible swamp, not a sensible thing to choose.

IF money was no object, I'd be a freehand scholar of the history of photography (something I've done a-vocationally for those 50 years), with the purpose of bringing images to people, to give them things to think about and be inspired by: an image wrangler... BUT the impending doom of AI imagery will pretty quickly make historical imagery obsolete, so that's not a wise choice either, too. But then people make blind/foolish choices as young adults...

At 25-30 one is just beginning to put things together into a coherence that will be foundational for the 40s and 50s, and what's important in the late 20s is to immerse oneself in self-directed learning: read, write, observe, talk. That's what I actually did between 1967 and 1972, the Stanford graduate school years for us.

I realize that Informing Others Against Their Will was then and is still the CORE purpose, and what occurred to me as the answer was long-form journalism concerning emergent problems. My heroes in this realm are Rebecca Solnit, Maria Popova, John McPhee, Rachel Carson, Lewis Thomas (and I'm sure others will occur to me). But for what medium... and who would the audience be?

At this point I narrated the above to Kate [born in 1970, hence 25-30 in 1995-2000] and she said:

Influencer. Clearly.

...and just a couple of hours later, in came The Influencer Economy Is Warping the American Dream (Katherine Hu, in The Atlantic).

Professional influencing—put simply, making a living from creating and sharing content about one's personal life—can seem like a bizarre career choice. In some ways it is. But taking the influencer economy seriously can help us better understand how the contours of the "American dream" are shifting for a new generation... Fifty-four percent of young Americans would become an influencer if given the chance... Watching someone film their own life and make a disproportionate amount of money from doing so, without being beholden to anyone, seems like an appealing way to avoid financial uncertainty. The payoff can be life-changing. Seeing the rise of successful influencers (or even your high-school friend who decided to start regularly posting on TikTok), you might be easily convinced that if you keep posting videos, follow other creators, and engage with your viewers, you, too, could pull in $20,000 for a single Instagram post...
(And when did you first encounter "Influencer" as a meme, an identity? Probably only a few years ago...)

In the wee hours of the morning it occurred to me to consider the following:

And then this morning, while waiting for my Home Kitchen Cafe breakfast after early tooth-cleaning, I fell to wondering if the Great Calling might be the writing of fiction? I'm drawn to that by the current listening to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, where I'm at the point (in Book 2) where Lyra is discovering the conjunction among Dust and Dark Matter and the I Ching [it's a Multiverse novel]. Fiction allows the writer to convey complex and even speculative ideas across to minds receptive to the magic of Narrative. And the best of fiction STICKS, and feeds the Imagination.

But how would one become a writer of fiction, and dodge the self-indulgent tiresomeness? How does one become Ursula Le Guin, or Philip Pullman, or Richard Powers, or Jane Austen, or George Eliot, or Virginia Woolf, or Terry Pratchett, or Neil Gaiman (to cite a clutch of writes of fiction whom I especially revere). What do you need to be doing at 25-30? Writing, of course, but how do you support yourself until you succeed, and can make a living by writing? And there is the question of readership: is reading going to suffer a decline? What will AI do to reading? (a parallel to the question that got me in the door at Simmons in 1991: what will microcomputers do to libraries?).

At the last minute, just before Convivium, it occurred to me that it matters a lot where you are at 25-30: in a big city, in a not-big city, on the outskirts of a not-big city; and what class you belong to, or are escaping from; and what about if you're not-white, or uneducated, and what differences are there if you're male, or female? There's an opportunity surface, with peaks and troughs, and many people leave their place of origin to seek opportunities elsewhere, just as some people make the default decision to stay, for a panoply of reasons. Quite a few people 25-30 in 2023 aren't from the place they now are, and some are early-20s migrants, who came in search of a Career; and some are people who chose to STAY, or who didn't have any way to leave, though the military is an escape valve for many, too.

IF in 1980 you were male, 25-30, born 1950-1955, and a recent migrant to San Francisco, chances are you'd migrated to be in a supportive community... a community that was being ravaged by AIDS. See Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City...A marvelously complicated demographic problem.

See also Lynn English graduates, 1929 for a glimpse of another cohort, perched on the brink of the Depression.

...A marvelously complicated demographic problem.

What a wonderfully juicy Question, Maureen!