Candy Crush, Bejeweled, Farmville, and many other games are exceedingly dumb ways to pass your time–and yet, chances are you’ve played some version of them anyway. People have, collectively, spent millions of potentially-productive hours on such games. Even more amazingly, people have spent millions of dollars in actual money on these games.
These games work because they’re addictive. Click the screen a few times, and corn appears! Wow! So you click the screen again, hoping more corn will appear. But as you “progress” through the game, each level becomes harder, takes longer, or requires more clicks. Next thing you know, you’re pulling out your phone at family functions to check on your fake corn instead of socializing with your cousins, or getting mugged on the subway because you were too busy swiping candies to pay attention to your surroundings.
Our career tracks have become far too similar.
I had the luck to catch up with a friend recently during a rare moment of down time. Way back in highschool, she decided to dedicate her life to one of those careers that shows a true commitment to helping others. Her adulthood, so far: 4 years of college; 4 years of grad school; 4 years of training; 2 years in a specialization program. By the time she has any hope of even being geographically settled instead of moving every few years, assuming she can get a job that will let her settle, she’ll be in her mid to late 30s. By the time she’s paid off her education debt, she’ll be in her 50s. Whether she wants kids or not, the question is practically moot.
It’s like the Farmville of real life, only instead of crops, you harvest degrees and grants and papers and fellowships.
Why pursue such a track? Yes, obviously, because she’s passionately committed to helping others, which is what she does. But also because our system requires and rewards such behavior.
There is absolutely no damn reason a JD or MD requires 4 years of college in addition to the programs themselves. There is no damn reason not to expedite a new doctor or lawyer or scientist or pretty much anyone else’s path to geographic and income stability.
When we ask why smart people don’t have more children, a big reason is that smart people are up to their eyeballs in debt, working 12 (or 24!) hour days, and constantly moving in hopes of finally getting enough points on their resumes to score a permanent job.
Fuck, people struggle just to get volunteer jobs.
Meanwhile, compare our friend to an Amish farmer. The work is hard. Back-breaking, sweaty, sometimes disgusting. If you’re unlucky, you could get trampled by a cow or something.
But there are no degrees. You don’t have to go to school to learn how to milk a cow and plow a field; your parents taught you that. There’s very little in the way of career advancement. You’ve been doing farm labor since you were four or so, and you’re likely to continue doing it until you die. You know you’ll probably have a job next year, how much money your crops will bring in, and if you need a new barn, your family will probably pitch in and help you out.
And the Amish have a lot of children. According to the Wikipedia, there were 5,000 Amish in 1920, and there were 290,000 Amish in 2014–and that’s not counting all of the ex-Amish who’ve left the faith over the years.
The same is true for people who aren’t Amish, but who face similarly limited career opportunities. If you can’t advance, you focus your energies elsewhere. If your phone dies because you forgot to charge it, you might be forced to actually interact with the people around you or read a goddamn book for a change.
I like having doctors. I like scientists. I can even stomach the thought of having some lawyers for certain purposes, like helping people fill out their wills. But we have to expedite the process.