Asimov’s short story, “Profession,” gives a unique take on the effectiveness of education systems and the intrinsic human right of freedom; specifically, the freedom of choice.
His story describes a world where at age 8 children are given the ability to read and 10 years later they are assigned a set of tapes that will determine their profession—removing any freedom people have regarding their livelihood. In “Profession”, the government champions this system because it protects citizens from being overwhelmed by society, destroyed by themselves, and offers a smooth transition to adulthood. During his education day, the day you are given the knowledge of your profession by the government, a doctor told George, “You could be devoured by a subject and if the physical make-up of your brain makes it more efficient for you to be something else, something else you will be.” In essence, the protagonist’s, George Platen’s, problems with this system offer commentary similar to that of the readings regarding appliancization and generative technologies– with no freedom of choice, will the ability to create, think, and advance as a society slowly whittle away into nothing? Will the “smarter” members of society continue to maintain a monopoly on the preeminent technologies, forcing the rest of the world into a stagnant purgatory?
To further the comparison between the government in “Profession” and the dangers of non-generative technologies produced by vanguard companies like Apple, I point to Tread Lightly When Embracing the Mac App Store by Nicholas Deleon. Deleon warns against Apple’s vendetta against generativity, the capacity of a system to allow room for future changes, on its App Store platform; Asimov warms against the lack of generativity in the educational system that leaves children with a defined skill set and not a higher intellectual capacity. Deleon asserts, “My concern, I suppose, is that an over-reliance on, and an over-veneration of, the Mac App Store could lead to an unnecessary, if not dangerous, homogenization of Mac software.” Before I continue identifying parallels, it is important to highlight that there are those who feel Mac produced software is simply the best and safest out there and that their is nothing wrong with this homogenization. In fact, Steve Jobs celebrated it at the release of the iPhone: “We deﬁne everything that is on the phone… You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore.”
This statement struck me as eerily similar to the statement the doctor made to George on his education day— he claimed the government was protecting its citizens and making life easier by assigning professions. While there may be some validity to both Jobs’ and the doctor’s comments, it is by no means worth sacrificing the freedom generativity enables.