Old School Re-Defined

The term “old school” was observed in no less than three Twitter chat sessions in the past few weeks. Research shows that it also appears regularly in personal blog posts as well as scholarly journals. In most cases it is apparent that people generally agree on the definition of this term, but its use is varied based on the source of the comments. Most dictionary definitions of old school acknowledge that it refers to things from an earlier era, but there is some disagreement whether or not it is a respectful term giving deference to traditional values or a derogatory term referring to ultra-conservative thinking that is resistant to change. A comment from a recruiter who looks with pride at her years of experience points to old school values and wears the term as a badge of honor. Another individual representing the Generation Y cohort speaks of his impression that the baby boomers are not capable of grasping technology because their old school thinking is archaic. There is truth on both sides, but old school is not planted like a fence post that never moves. Instead it is more like a tree that grows and expands with age. On closer examination both the negative and positive connotations occupy the same space in our brains and they are not really mutually exclusive concepts.

Traditional methods evolve into new methods. The topic of old school is most often discussed when it is related to technology. Very little that happens in the technological world springs from nothingness. Social media sites may be a new tool for online communication, collaboration, recruitment and recreation. However, before the term social media came along there were chat rooms hosted by various internet providers that served the same purposes. Windows based online services evolved from those with a different form of graphical user interface and that concept originated in videotext. As the technology of the time improved, videotext was a logical extension of early internet communication by online bulletin boards. This cycle could probably be traced back through Egyptian hieroglyphics to prehistoric drawings on the walls of caves. The need for humans to communicate to other human beings has never stopped and it is naïve to believe that today’s technology will be around tomorrow in the same format.

An element in new technology may enhance the old school. The modern dilemma of finding and maintaining employment is not new, but the use of job boards and applicant tracking systems made it easier to do. Applying technology to the old methodologies enhanced the process. This allowed individuals and employers a greater ability to expand their reach, improve processing of data and more accurately measuring results. This too has been the result of evolving ideas. Sending paper resumes through the postal service was replaced by email and ultimately by online application. These representative examples are not static but will continue to evolve over time. Individuals and companies that depend on these current technologies will also evolve or they will not survive. Already there are start-up companies marrying the applicant and employer information in a dating-service-like database that optimizes the mutual interests of all parties.   

An element in new technology may replace the old school. Sometimes the technological advancement is so profound that the old technology just vanishes. Scanning and emailing documents has for the most part already replaced facsimile devices in the workplace as the primary means for transmitting hardcopy documents.  Early word processors are the latest to join their keyboard cousin the typewriter as exhibits in dusty museum displays. Multi-functioning desktop computers with sophisticated office suites entered and then dominated that scene. Miniaturization came next and suddenly old school mainframe power is pocket portable. Voice actuated input devices are already poised to take the next evolutionary leap into technological improvement in the storing and management of data.

Automation of old school ideas is not new school. Some of the elements mentioned already are not really some kind of startling reinvention of a concept. Instead, technology seems to become its own driving force by attempting to automate everything. Is a resume typed on a typewriter any different from one generated with word processing software? If the output from the system remains the same, then basically only the processing speed or method of delivery has changed. True revolutionary forward thinking would be to accomplish the same thing without a resume at all. A number of individuals have already decreed that the resume is dead, but no one has yet been able to define a working system that will satisfy business needs without sacrificing human individuality. Meanwhile technology advocates continue to form business cases for enhancing, tweaking and optimizing the existing resume format that still turns out be the same old school results.

For those who see everything and everyone who existed before their conscious thoughts even came into being as old, antiquated and useless: take a look around at the gifts you were given by your old school predecessors. Start now preparing now for an answer to the inevitable question that you will be asked twenty years from now, “What contribution did you and YOUR old school generation leave as a legacy for those who followed you?”


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