Context and age and soft skills

It is hard to know when oneself does not have enough context to appreciate a piece of art. When someone else lacks context, it is easier to see.

Consider my children watching last week’s Super Bowl halftime show. Snoop Dogg was performing on a stylized urban-themed stage. My kids could see the same thing I could see. They did not, remotely, “get it”.

You better lose yourself in the music…

“Lose Yourself” performed by Eminem

Children have little context for anything. But this half time show was a cultural moment. Millennials and Gen X experienced an awakening, or perhaps a collective crisis.

The following tweet got 60 thousand likes about how old the performers are. Everyone was calculating how many years had gone by since this hip hop and rap music was new. Decades have passed and now we who have the context to understand this music are feeling old.

In some nursing home in the year 2070, school children will trudge in and sing “Lose Yourself” because it makes the old people happy. The kids will not understand the appeal.

Matt and Ben are tweeting about music in code, but it happens to be a code I know. There are many codes that I do not know. I think that is part of what Tyler means in his latest posts about how “context is scarce”.

The real reason for writing about context this week is not the Super Bowl. I was reading yet more articles about tech skills and labor demand.* Once again, I came across the issue of soft skills. Could we say, “Soft skills are that which is scarce”?

When workers lack hard skills, it seems straight-forward to pack them off to a bootcamp. Teach them, for example, some functions in a programming language. The solution to a lack of soft skills is less clear, although maybe that is what decades of modern education is for. Corporate workers today need to know when to apply their skills and what tone to use in their email communication. They must not embarrass the company.

If a manager tells a worker to do “X task,” they cannot explain every detail. The worker needs to have the context to carry out the work on their own. Workers need to know the code.**

Could that be why so many employers desire a bachelor’s degree? Tyler wrote:

9. So much of education is teaching people context.  That is why it is hard, and also why it often does not seem like real learning.

Does this explain why there is simultaneously age discrimination and the ubiquitous “5 years of experience” hurdle for good jobs? Managers are looking for the sweet spot of current technical savvy and institutional context.

* I was reading a report by Quinn Burke. Here’s a published paper on soft skills and STEM. Here’s a blog of mine in which I wrote, “Trust falls and Tolkien is the prescription for this workforce.”

**funny Elf clip on The Code and dating

4 thoughts on “Context and age and soft skills

  1. Yoav February 22, 2022 / 5:04 am

    A lot of context is also cultural dependent.
    Ever tried to watch a foreign trivia show? It is amazing what is considered trivial knowledge in other places.

    Also rules of behavior are differnt.


    • Joy February 22, 2022 / 9:25 am

      Good point. I’m not great at broadening my own horizons, but watching more foreign TV/movies would be a good option. It’s a lot cheaper than getting on a plane.


    • Scott Buchanan February 22, 2022 / 12:07 pm

      I remember thumbing through a booklet at the company I used to work for , the booklet was noting some aspects of different countries’ culture that might be surprising to outsiders. The section on the U.S. tried to explain (nonjudgmentally) that it was not uncommon for Americans to eat while driving or even (gasp) while walking, instead of sitting down and savoring their meal like any reasonable European would.


  2. Scott Buchanan February 22, 2022 / 12:01 pm

    “In some nursing home in the year 2070, school children will trudge in and sing “Lose Yourself” because it makes the old people happy. ” Yikes!!


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