Our generation and the age of big data

 
Troy James Palanca was chosen to give this response speech in behalf of the DLSU February 2014 graduates.
 
Today, we enter what our elders have always called "the real world." We were all headed there inevitably – this world where we will have to tug at more than just our parents' heartstrings to put food on the table. To those whose futures appear clear and untroubled, congratulations. But for the rest of us who feel uncertain and anxious about the world of work and family, let me try and speak on our behalf.
 
I graduate with degrees in Economics and Accountancy, so you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I’m a numbers guy. Like many of us who were influenced by our professors, I’ve become a big fan of research, too. I think it's really great when people take a step back from what they call 'common sense' and say, "Wait a minute. Let's also try and think scientifically about the best way to do this first." Still, as I think about our prospects entering the workforce, I can’t help but imagine how our future bosses might react to the ways of our generation – trying to predict demand with factors such as the weather, or implementing an accounting system that tracks every peso in the treasury even if withdrawn by the owner of the company himself.

I feel that it won’t be long before many of us reach the point of deciding against doing what we believe is most effective, in favor of doing what our bosses prefer to see. After all, the reason we call it the "real world," is because it’s not like our textbooks – it’s messy, unreasonable, and unpredictable.

Fellow graduates, most of us have been trained in an evidence-based environment, where every action, solution, invention, or argument has to be based on solid reasoning, not just intuition; where the solution to increased competition is to innovate, and not to ask that friend in government to do us a favor, and where policy should be based on careful weighing of costs and benefits to all of society, not merely on the interests of the largest backers.

Previous generations may have gotten away with it, but our generation is coming into the age of "big data," where everything in business and government is driven or complemented by quantitative analysis of very large data sets, the kind we could barely imagine twenty years ago.

We can now predict what movies a person would most likely watch next by matching him with people of similar interests. Roll call data for Congress can easily determine who among our lawmakers spend more time socializing than legislating. Books and publications can now be scanned for plagiarism. Your phone can warn other commuters of heavy traffic so that they can avoid the route – something we will surely need in the coming years. This is the age in which our generation of graduates has been trained.

But as with all transitions, conflict seems inevitable. This conflict – between the experience-driven thinking of the current generation and the ideas and methods of the younger generation – has touched nearly every aspect of society. A close friend of mine, despite her undoubted love for family, will not touch their family business with a ten-foot pole, because, as she puts it, “It’s just too crazy.” The cash is there, and dividends are being paid but they don’t know why, and they don’t know to whom.

My thesis-mate, despite her many ideas for improving governance in the country, won’t even entertain the thought of entering the civil service, because, as she says, she’ll get "eaten up the system" – a system that rewards the appearance of merit – connections and wealth – more than merit itself. I myself am constantly afraid that those older and presumably wiser will turn me into just another shady businessman, passionless corporate drone, or corrupt politician.

When put this way, it’s easy to start discounting the ways of the present generation – intuitive or impressionistic thinking and patronage – as the ways of the old. It’s easy to think that their suspicion of new technology and ways of thinking are borne simply out of ignorance, but I believe that there is always something we can learn from our parents, our bosses, and our teachers.

You’ll hear it often – “that’s just common sense; you will learn it outside of school,” and there is some truth to that.

Despite five years of having studied in this university, I am still only 21 years old. My parents have gone through twice what I’ve experienced, and the means with which their generation has worked – many times trusting instincts over reason, relationships over simple compliance – should not be immediately dismissed as uncompetitive or maladaptive. After all, how can we argue with that which puts food on the table and a roof over our heads – that which, at the end of it all, has worked for them, possibly still works, and has worked for the longest time?

On the other hand, times are definitely changing. When markets become fully globalized and government connections can no longer protect their businesses, when the international consumer base rewards performance and nothing else, and when technology no longer allows the taxman to adjust our payments – how will the businesses and families that we will join adapt?

This conflict may appear abstract, but there are real people trapped in this divide: my friend who will disappoint her mother by refusing to go into the family business, my thesis-mate who might not find work that is meaningful for her because she fears the ways of government, and you, fellow graduate, who might grow tired when your ideas get shot down, time after time by superiors who may value experience more than evidence.

It is not an easy dilemma to resolve, and we would be foolish to even try here. Instead, as we make our way through this tricky terrain, let’s rely on something more than just our Lasallian education – let’s draw on our Lasallian formation. We don’t have to use big words to describe it. You’ll recognize it when you remember the lessons you learned from the best people you’ve encountered at DLSU. And they’re always lessons about character.

Here are some I’ve picked up: (1) recognize the strengths of others along with your own; (2) you don’t always have to take sides in a conflict; (3) you don’t always end up encouraging or persuading others by telling them they’re wrong, even when they are; (4) that being smart is aimless if you don’t practice compassion; (5) and the most important lesson of all, when your alma mater finally wins a championship after 6 long years, you take a moment to cheer for the other side because there are always things more important than winning.

Even if we manage to survive these generational conflicts, there’ll be others, and we can only hope that our formation will help us through, one humane solution at a time.

In closing, please allow me to thank the professor who continuously reminded my freshman self that I didn’t know it all; that mentor who showed me that the world was much more complex; much more nuanced than I could possibly imagine; that classmate who reminded me that I am not always the best, and that I don’t have to be. I thank my parents who did not plan my life, but allowed me to build my own personality, and my friends and peers for showing me the value of collective effort.

The best part of a Lasallian education is that it enables others, not just ourselves. Society expects competence from La Salle graduates, but let us go one step further and be men and women of character, of Lasallian charism.

Thank you.



Author: TROY JAMES PALANCA

Troy James Palanca graduated magna cum laude with the degrees Bachelor of Science in Applied Economics and Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from the De La Salle University in Manila. From Legazpi City, Albay, he was awarded a Star Scholarship from the University, and will be awarded the Student Leadership Award and Best Undergraduate Thesis upon graduation. Currently reviewing for the CPA Board Exams in May 2014, he has taken a part-time job performing data analytics and visualization at the Department of Finance’s Fiscal Intelligence Unit. 

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