We were playing Cards Against Humanity, which, by the way, is a great way to educate kids about everything important, and we have a rule that if you don’t know what a card means you can trade it in, but you have to ask what it means.

So my son says, “What’s a desk job?”

Then he says, “Oh. It’s what I’m doing when I do Cinema 4D!”

He has been spending about six hours a day using Cinema 4D. When I bought it for him the sales guy said a ten-year-old is too young. But whatever. We homeschool. I never say no except to porn.

Since then, when he wants to use his computer he says, “I have to go to work.”

One night he said, “I have to stay up late to finish my work.”

Shocked, I asked, “Why? Is someone paying you?”

It turns out he is making intros to YouTube channels. I guess every grade-school age boy has a YouTube channel and they all want a graphic introduction—one that lasts about seven seconds and has their screen name and dubstep music and it sort of looks like the beginning of a movie when the logo for the film company spins and jumps and dances to music.

My son gets paid in Minecraft stuff. Gaming accouterments are the Bitcoin of the grade-school set. For a while my son was rich and happy in his desk job, and he gave client reports each night at dinner.

He learned to wheel and deal over Skype (email is for old people), and he started playing Minecraft on servers where he was most likely to make a sale via chat. (Sample of his proven sales technique: “Grt shot bro. Did u ever get yr intro fixed? It sux.”)

Parental police alert: Yes, sucks is bad. I tell him not to say it when his cello teacher is listening. And yes, while we are talking about it, Cards Against Humanity is bad, too. We play with an edited version. My ex-husband sliced out bad words on otherwise decent cards with an X-Acto knife. And while I’m giving shout-outs to my ex-husband, let me just say there are few card games as fun as playing a marriage expansion pack with him.

So my son starts making daily schedules so he can fit cello practice and piano practice in between all his client work. And then when I tell him he needs to work harder on the C# scale, he tells me, “I’m thinking that making intros is a good backup plan for my music career.”

But then the inevitable darkness sets in. People started giving away intro templates. “Now anyone can make a good intro! Even people who are terrible at Cinema 4D!”

First he lost his clients. Then he got hecklers. “People are telling me I need to give stuff away for free. But I tell them I can’t. The intros take too long to make. But the kids bully me. I have workplace bullies.”

This is, of course, something my son has heard me talk about, and I have to squelch a smile. He says, “Kids tell me I’m stupid for charging for my intros. Kids are telling me I’m not the best intro animator anymore.” Pause. To check my reaction.

I make a sad face. It is a challenge for me to show enough empathy for him.

He says, “This is serious!” and flops onto his bed.

I tell him about a site that makes a record of bullying at work so you can get the person to stop. It’s called OnLock.

He quiets down. Mention of OnLock makes him think I’m taking him seriously. And, probably, that’s one of the benefits of OnLock—that it makes taking action about workplace bullies official.

I try to explain how everyone’s job becomes obsolete. “You have to figure out something else to do when what you’re doing doesn’t work anymore.”

“You don’t understand,” is what he mumbles into his pillow. For drama.

“Yes, I do understand. I used to get paid $40 an hour to hand-code websites. Now people can put up a website without writing any code. And I used to get paid to publish my blog posts in newspapers. And now people write for free.”

He looks up at me, and he doesn’t yell, so I say a little more.

“Everyone’s job becomes obsolete. Nothing lasts forever. You always have to learn new skills. You’ll think of another thing to do. ”

He throws a fit. Kicks the bed frame and yells that it’s worse for him. I make him put the bed back together.

But you know what? This is how everyone feels when their job is becoming obsolete. It’s just that most grown-ups force themselves not to throw things.

I walk downstairs the next morning, and he says from his office, “Mom! I thought of something new to do! I sent you a link!”

And here it is.

42 replies
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I love this post for so many reasons. It’s great that your son realized this lesson in life so early. Most people don’t learn this until they are an adult in their careers.

    I think it’s adorable that he trades in Minecraft. It’s great insight into how the next generation could possibly trade currency in the future ala bitcoin.

    He seems like a successful entrepreneur in the making. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jack
      Jack says:

      Too true.

      It took me years to truly internalize the idea of professional obsolescence. The earlier you can learn the lesson that business is constantly changing and you have to adapt, the more likely you are to succeed in business.

  2. Sacha
    Sacha says:

    Penelope,

    What an excellent post and a very timely one.

    I see a lot of people in ‘melting ice cube’ industries (think publishing, manufacturing and postal services) get angry and find someone to blame for the fact that the world has moved on and new technologies have made their skill sets obsolete. If only governments took your approach and instead of restricting trade and blaming immigrants, helped these people gain the skill sets that will not only make them valuable employees in the future, but will also enable the whole country to stay ahead in this globalised world. If only.

    The more I read your blogposts, the more I think you should probably be advising policy makers on how to stay ahead in a changing world. For instance, what you said in the interview with us (just published on silkarmour.co.uk) about women rings very true to me. If only we could get a jump start on our careers before having babies we would create a much more equal and far more productive workforce. Instead we force everyone to waste their most innovative years getting indoctrinated in sitting still and doing what we’re told.

    I think the way you’re teaching your kids is great, and am absolutely certain they will one day turn into tech billionaires because of all the independent thinking, self motivation and practical and diverse skill sets they have learned in their younger years.

    Thanks for all your great writing, and the time and stories you have kindly shared with me.

    All the best to you and your family

  3. Nur Costa
    Nur Costa says:

    “No waffles for you” haha
    You read minds. I’ve been feeling like your son lately and needed this push–and smiles from the links you share. Hilarious, never saw them before.

    Regards,

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      We did have unlimited porn until it proved to be too difficult for my youngest to self-regulate and he asked for help. So now we have standards for what searches are hurtful to him – like what searches will send him down a path he doesn’t want to go. Honestly, I worked it out with a family therapist. It’s not natural to me to censor but I don’t want his childhood ruined.

      Penelope

  4. Nick
    Nick says:

    Has your son tried appealing to the Twitch crowd? Lots of them have gimmicks on their channels and short little splash vids like what your son could make could work well in that format. Sort of like how at the ball game the big screen shows short little vids when someone hits a home run or such.

    I imagine he could go from Minecraft goodies to real cash too, since some of those guys are banking serious cash.

  5. Frances
    Frances says:

    Insightful post and love (!!) the ending. As a gal in the publishing industry, it’s obvious that I need to move on but it’s like a bad boyfriend who looks really great in his jeans. Hard to leave. Good reminder to “skill forward” in 2016.

    • BK
      BK says:

      I also work in the publishing industry and can see the writing on the wall with respect to obsolescence. I am trying hard to get out but can’t seem to. Employers no longer care about transferable skills and only want to hire people who have done the exact same job in the exact same industry.

      • Cate
        Cate says:

        I am in the publishing industry too. Let me say that abilities to write, read, and edit text will never go out of style. Those should be your strengths unless you are in sales in publishing. Learn as much as you can about online presence, but also learn HOW people read (print text and online text). Fascinating stuff.

        I have been doing the same job (not literally) for 10+ years, and have watched as the industry has changed. If your company is flexible and changes in real time, then your life is much easier. If your company is a dinosaur and permits you to stagnate as it stagnates, then slumps/lays people off/rapidly adjusts, then it becomes a problem.

        • BK
          BK says:

          All very true, but, without giving away too much information, looseleaf publishing isn’t a format that is projected to grow – and that’s a large part of what I do!

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “… But the kids bully me. I have workplace bullies.”

    The above makes me think about bullies I encountered while I was growing up and the bullies of today that are online. It seems to me that managing an online reputation (and brand in this case) presents challenges that I never encountered at his age. His encounters, while on Skype, are not really face to face. I had the opportunity to kick, fight, punch, wrestle, yell or whatever the other kid. It felt better and was more satisfying than kicking a bed or some other inanimate object. I think today’s generation of young people online have many challenges I haven’t even thought of. I really like his new idea at the end of the post. The best software for a great mom. Good investment.

  7. Ron Vitale
    Ron Vitale says:

    I love this post. Not only is it a great parenting article, but it’s also relevant to everyone in the workforce. Technology is changing so fast that we’re all having a difficulty time catching up. Watching the publishing industry, newspapers, music industry–the list goes on.

    The biggest take away for me is to kick that bed and get angry, but then get up and come up with another idea of what you can do.

    Brilliant!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I agree. There are natural protections when it’s online.

      I remeber walking home from school alone and the same group of boys became so terrifying to me that one day I knocked on a stranger’s door and asked to come inside because I was so scared.

      Off topic a bit: but she was so incredibly nice to me. I loved sitting with her in her kitchen and she made me hot chocolate. She made me feel so safe.

      Penelope

  8. Alex
    Alex says:

    Are there links to some of the intros he has done anywhere? I liked the one you linked to, he might seek out opportunities to do that for businesses producing video content. I’m interested in seeing some more.

  9. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    I remember reading somewhere that jobs like even the lawyers would be obsolete, because AI are becoming better at going through archives of cases and identifying patters or whatever. It’s interesting how a high pay, once perceived to be highly skilled and “intelligent” job, is soon to be replaced by computers.

    • Jay
      Jay says:

      I’m not sold on AI doing anything but routine legal, medical, and engineering work. I am an engineer and I just don’t see the path to get there. Most every job in my field is custom. Relying on AI would mean a jump in soft logic and value judgements that I don’t see machines doing at least within 100 years if ever. And the consequences of a machine being turned loose to do something without trained human oversight could be either deadly or expensive due to standardized methods that know no or little nuance.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I’ve been reading into universal basic income, which would then free people to explore their interests (I guess, mass adult unschooling). I find it incredibly interesting as the pay gap widens and the two class system re-emerges, will we really need to keep broadening basic skills?

      • Jay
        Jay says:

        That’s an absolutely terrible idea. I’ve seen it in action first hand and it destroys people and their will to do anything constructive. it makes the vast majority beggars and wards of the state and slaves to hedonistic extravagance. If you want details I can (and would be thrilled to) give you a plethora of details and case studies. Post here and I will send you my personal email.
        If you think the country has a drug problem now. . .

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          The reality is that the underclass (as it is now-unable to meet basic needs) is unnecessary and counterproductive to modern times. Eventually there will most likely be mass upheaval anyway. So what’s the solution? The market is so tilted, that the working class won’t be able to outwork/outsmart situation. So either way it will lead to a sort of violence (most likely) either self inflicted (drugs) or external. Anyway this is completely a different topic of discussion, but social policies will inevitably have to change in the US to a more cohesive and inclusive structure. Capitalism succeeded behind industrialism, which is no longer necessary.

          Interesting subjects to dive into nonetheless.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            Ok, perhaps it won’t be social policy that creates a new system. Take government out of it, and you’re still left with the same issues that will need to be resolved.

            I think big government is part of the problem, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the underclass can’t outwork what’s happening and right now government is the way we distribute income and benefits. If it was me, I’d wipe out 2/3rds of government and write checks to everyone- they can then spend it on their needs. By giving the money back to the people versus holding it in GOV, I think it’s enough to satisfy basic needs (I’d have to run the numbers. Unions would throw a fit, though.

    • Damian
      Damian says:

      Accountants will also fall victim to AI. My job has also become obsolete. Luckily, I have savings which will allow me to retrain.

  10. Marie
    Marie says:

    Out of curiosity, what was the timeframe for his starting his job and then finding himself obsolete? A few weeks, months, days?

  11. Amy Parmenter
    Amy Parmenter says:

    With Aspergers, I don’t know how you felt when you saw his ‘new idea’, but I almost cried. Awesome.

    And a great great story.

    Thx P.

    Amy

  12. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    I just want to say it’s so awesome that your 10 year old managed to create his own little business at his young age. You can already tell he has a bright future.

  13. iandboreham
    iandboreham says:

    Sounds like your son could do with mum easing up on the piano and cello lessons so that he can focus on not becoming obsolete in the future (seems like little chance of this if he already has these tech skills). Although, last time I looked concert painist was not an obsolete profession and hasn’t changed much in the last 200+ years. Tough call. Can see your dilemma.

  14. Tom
    Tom says:

    Great column, and amazing kid.

    Creating a successful tech job at ten: amazing.

    Running a business at ten: amazing.

    Recovering overnight from the collapse of his livelihood: AMAZING

  15. Diane
    Diane says:

    I am an instructional designer and I wish I had this animation skill. I have a feeling there are MANY uses for it…

  16. Sherman Hardy
    Sherman Hardy says:

    This is a great article, I’m reminded all the time that we must reinvent ourselves as business owners. I promise every time that I see a new article on inman about zillow or redfin I cringe (I’m a full-time realtor here in DC). It seems like there’s always someone trying to replace us, be with with technology or offering service for practically nothing.

  17. Starboard
    Starboard says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Hopefully, enough time has passed that repercussions will be minimal: the game shown on the screen in the photo is not Minecraft, it’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

    I’m not aware of any mechanism in Minecraft to move in-game currency into the “real world”. Each Minecraft server can maintain its own in-game economy but the money doesn’t leave that private server.

    On the other hand, CS:GO features active trading in “skins” that creates an effective interface between in-game and real-world currencies. The skin market is central to Valve’s (CS:GO owner) business model and can be used both for legitimate and nefarious dealings. (Side comment: Yanis Varoufakis transitioned from Valve Corp. Economist-in-Residence to Greek Finance Minister in 2015.)

    Personal comment: CS:GO is Rated M/Mature(17+) by ESRB due to graphic images. Undeterred, my son, then 14, hacked our modern financial system to buy it without parental oversight: he used a Steam/Valve gift card he purchased at the local pharmacy with cash. Our children are digital natives and more able to explore/exploit the world that we digital immigrants created.

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