Archived Story

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Published 10:23pm Saturday, April 26, 2014

By Kermit Hobbs

Many years ago, when I was a senior in high school, a group of us took a field trip to the VEPCO power plant on the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake.

We spent an hour or so touring the facility, and eventually we ended up in a classroom, where our guides talked to us about the future and the challenges that we, as adults, would be facing. One of the men drew a graph on the board to illustrate this for us.

He drew a horizontal line and labeled it 2000 B.C., 1000 B.C., 0 B.C., 1000 A.D., and 2000 A.D. Then he drew a vertical line from the same point and labeled it 0 miles per hour, 100 miles per hour, 200 miles per hour, and so on.

He asked us how fast a person could travel in 2000 B.C., to which we answered, probably 20 miles per hour on a horse. He moved across the graph, repeating the question for different points in time and marking our answers on the graph. He showed us that the answer stayed the same through history until just the last century and a half or so.

Since that time, railroads, automobiles, and airplanes had enabled us to travel so fast that the line went right off the top of the chart he was drawing.

His point was that technology was already advancing at a dizzying pace, and it would only happen faster during our lifetimes. We would have to learn to both endure it and manage it.

If I were to make that same graph today, I might ask, “How quickly can we communicate with anyone in the world?” or “How much information can we store in a device the size of a fingernail?” Even these questions don’t begin to reveal the power of today’s technology, but they would show by comparison that when I was nearing adulthood, the technology curve had barely started to rise.

Social, economic and other changes have also taken place — some good and some not. It is all happening so fast that it is often uncomfortable. Dealing with change is one of the greatest challenges today’s generation will face.

Many books have been written about this topic. I don’t have the time or the wisdom to write a book, but I do have one suggestion.

Make a lifelong commitment to continuing education. One of the reasons things are changing is that there is so much new information out there to “know.”

I have heard it said that nowadays, education is “slippery.” Just because you received a college degree in the past, it doesn’t mean you are necessarily knowledgeable in your subject today.

There are several ways you can stay up with current thinking in your career field. One is through community colleges. They offer courses for students coming from high school and for adults sharpening their work skills. One thing I particularly like is that they offer courses that prepare students for trade certifications — real, cutting-edge stuff.

Another good way to stay current in your field is to join a professional or trade organization. They usually have seminars, trade journals or websites showing new developments in their fields. Many offer certification programs that allow you to earn recognition for your knowledge while keeping you abreast of the latest trends.

The best way to deal with change is to get out in front of it. The only way to do that is by continuing to learn.

If you are just now stepping out into a new career or even trying to catch up with the one you are in, I wish you the best of luck.

Kermit Hobbs Jr. is an accomplished Suffolk historian and businessman. Email him at khobbs5@aol.com.

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