In Defense of the Humanities

The Humanities has become the butt of a lot of jokes on college campuses. Apparently, it’s the degree that’ll get you that waiter or barista job you’ve been dreaming of since you were a child. And guess what? You’ll be serving all those business and engineering majors five dollar frappés from Starbucks. Arts majors can dream about the bourgeois life while the others can measure success by the price of their coffee.

In his latest book, Physics of the future, Michio Kaku gives an optimistic view of the future involving automation and sustainability. While the reputed futurist gives a fairly ideal and frankly utopian view of the next 100 years, he also sheds light on our upcoming post-scarcity world Not only does he cite the emerging efficiency of renewable technologies such as solar power, but he notes that automation will leave many of us to take more specialized positions, since many basic service and manufacturing jobs will not be necessary. Foxconn, maker of Apple, Microsoft and Samsung products in China, will soon be adding up to hundreds of thousands new machines to their assembly line. Online shopping, too, will cause more salespeople to be obsolete. The age of automation is also the age of human obsolescence.

So what does this mean? Does it point towards a generation of unemployed or underemployed youth? Will it mean the end of a whole series of jobs we thought self-evident to a developed society?

The thing is, we don’t know. One thing is certain, though; companies are going to look for innovators. Creators. Inventors. People of ideas. It is no longer enough to just remember what something is and how to use it. It is no longer enough to just know. In the near future, you will have to know HOW to know. Our basic processes of understanding and creativity are no longer worth scoffing at, especially when taught through historical, philosophical, and literary works. The humanities fosters creative arguments and contradictory perspectives. Without knowing how to use creativity, companies will stagnate. The massive surge of start-ups and online businesses, on top of the apps that track all of these products and present the best possible purchasing options — will stifle old capitalistic methods and transform our society into what Michio Kaku has called “perfect capitalism”.

Since the efficiency of everything is increasing exponentially, as well, we have to understand that people will have more time to enjoy these literary works. People will not be exhausted by their repetitive manufacturing processes. People will have time to read. Whether it be on TV or in massive, Stephen King-sized tomes, people will have more time to digest them. This is necessarily increase the output of intellectual thought. Humanity will have the time to improve their minds.

Ultimately, people must now pay attention to the Humanities. It’s not that they were unimportant before, but now they provide real-world applications. The greatest and most-often overlooked aspect of it is that they teach you how to learn. They don’t just teach you how to copy or translate something, but they teach you how to question language, and at times even doubt it. This shift won’t happen right away, and frankly, the Humanities have not yet recognized their potential as a formative hub of creative thinkers. Many engineering and media studies programs have, and by embracing website and e-business creation, have heralded many of this generation’s young entrepreneurs.

The future, it seems, belongs to those who dream. It also belongs to those who know how to do it.

Scotiabank Giller Prize Announces All-Star Jury

margaret-atwood

The Scotiabank Giller Prize Committee has just announced that Margaret Atwood, along with Esi Edugyan and American author Jonathan Lethem, will make up the coveted prize jury for the 2013 award.

The Giller is one of the most coveted in Canada, and it will grant the winner of this year’s prize with 50,000 dollars in cash. Previous winner include jury members Atwood and Edugyan, along with celebrated writers like Alice Munro and Michael Ondaatje. Not only has this award bolstered the sales of previously-recognized works, but many have also gone on to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize, arguably the British Commonwealth’s largest literary recognition.

The Giller Prize was founded in 1995 by philanthropists Jack Rabinovitch as a tribute to his late wife, and has in recent years received the sponsorship of Scotiabank, helping to raise the prize money from 25k to 50k. While the grand jury is often lead by notable figures, this year’s choices are particularly considerable.

Edugyan rose to immediate fame with her 2011 tour-de-force Half-Blood Blues, winning the Giller and getting shortlisted for both the Orange and Man Booker prizes. Lethem is also a highly-decorated author; his book Motherless Brooklyn won the National Book Critic’s Circle Award in 1999 and he will be releasing a prolific ninth novel this fall.

We will still have to wait until September for the longlist and November for the final decision. Until then, you can check out a list of recent works that they have deemed eligible for the upcoming prize.