Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on October 1, 2008


typewriter         In some alternate Hollywood America, the evening of November 5, 1955 is celebrated.  That night, in a small home on the outskirts of Hill Valley, California, a lonely scientist was standing on a toilet, attempting to hang a clock.  Luckily for this alternative nation, that clock was never hung.  Instead, Dr. Emmett Brown slipped from his porcelain pedestal, cracked his head on the sink, and in the process envisioned the Flux Capacitor – a device that, when powered with 1.21 gigawatts of electricity, made time travel possible.

          Imagine, if you will, the ability to go back in time to see just how Stonehenge was constructed, or the ability to travel forward ten years and see just what the Jonas Brothers will be up to in the year 2018, thereby explaining two of the phenomena found so inexplicable in Lesson #12.  Imagine.  Like John Lennon.  Just – imagine.  But alas, as Ferras sings, “Hollywood’s Not America.”  Because too many of our undergraduates are spending their formative years studying Art History and Accounting, the world will never live as one.  The metaphorical flux capacitor of innovation will remain, for most Americans, only a discarded sketch on a few forgotten frames of 1985 Hollywood film.

         Yet the world outside is working on these dreams.  At places like the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and at Bangalore University in India, thousands of students apply every year for a handful of spots to work on projects as imaginative as the Flux Capacitor (which after all, is just some fiber-optic cable stretched into the shape of a Y in a stainless steel box).  And they are passing us by.  If we, as a society, wish to stay competitive in a flattening world, we need more scientists, and less college graduates who can’t make change.  We need more students interested in working on green technology for the cars of tomorrow, and less students interested in making “major green” as financial consultants in order that they might drive the 9 MPG cars of yesterday.  So today, before I drive away from the office in my 33 MPG 2001 Volvo (with a Jonas Brothers bumper sticker), which seems very much a car of the present, and in the spirit of science and Dr. Brown’s great fictional discovery, let’s leave behind our long-dead Phoenician friend Phlebas, crank up Huey Lewis and the News, hop in our 1985 DeLorean (or our 2001 Volvo), and travel…Back to the Future.

         Wait.  Did you read it in your dramatic Christopher Lloyd voice?  Let’s try it again.  BACK…TO THE FUTURE.  All right, now we’re ready to go 88 miles per hour.  We’ve had a sufficiently grandiose warm-up for what turns out to be a pretty simple point.

          According to the National Science Board’s 2004 Science and Engineering Indicators, there is “a troubling decline in the number of U.S. citizens who are training to become scientists and engineers, whereas the number of jobs requiring science and engineering (S & E) training continues to grow.”  More specifically, “The number of jobs requiring science and engineering skills in the U.S. labor force is growing almost 5 percent per year.  In comparison, the rest of the labor force is growing at just over 1 percent.”  So, if you want to stabilize your place in the job market, the best thing to do is to major in a math or science related field – like engineering – and just run with it.  (Note: you should also remember Lesson #2: Start Taking Chinese Now.)

        Now, we must recognize that, as the last lesson hints, a major aspect of Considering Phlebas is selecting a future career that you can enjoy (and listening to The Raconteurs).  And as an English professor, I’m not about to turn you away from the Humanities if you just really want to spend the rest of your life studying French poetry or Eighteenth-Century agrarian business models.  But, if you’ve got an inclination for Math and Science, and you can see yourself being happy writing advanced logarithms to optimize Internet searches or designing Hydrogen Fuel Cells, those are gigs that won’t lead to a bad quality of life.  Right now, we’re producing too many business majors and not enough new manufacturing businesses.  This trend can’t sustain itself forever. If we as a country don’t produce more new products in the next fifty years, what are all these businessmen and businesswomen going to be selling?  Because I don’t see it.  But then again, I never saw that lightning bolt destroying the Clocktower either.  Wizard. Out.

3 Responses

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  1. pchang said, on October 7, 2008 at 1:22 am

    Dr. Wizard…what do you mean by writing advanced logarithms? do you mean.. algorithms? Just a question..

  2. drwizard said, on October 7, 2008 at 2:22 am

    So I do. Stupid anagrams. Nice catch, Mr. Chang. Also, it should be noted, that I am only a humble English professor.

  3. Charlie said, on November 16, 2008 at 8:19 am

    We’re really stuck on the Consolers of the Lonely, aren’t we? Well, I won’t judge, because, in all honesty, it really f-in ROCKS.

    Oh yeah.

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