The world has become a 'quick results' place. People want skills that can be put to work, not a grounding in Classics or other stale, stuffy, even indulgent, scholarship. In education and elsewhere, relevance is all.
That's the bleak wisdom in our frenzied new 24-7 existence. Yet there are still signs of a hankering for the insights of a more considered lifestyle. Book titles such as How Proust Can Change Your Life and If Aristotle Ran General Motors glide up the bestsellers list. More strikingly, the new breed of entrepreneurial heroes such as the country's internet champion, Mike Lynch, and the king of the biotech industry, Dr Chris Evans, made it after long toil in academia. PhDs in research subjects like particle physics grace their CVs and those of many of their employees. Two academics this month explore this ground in a debate over Classics degrees v Business studies.
So, clearly, we don't count on short cuts and immediate wins entirely; somehow the desire for instant gratification jostles with a reverence for erudition. Modern technology may be brilliant at delivering quick, buzzy experiences, yet we still turn on occasion to fields where success unfolds slowly and painstakingly. Witness the rise of gardening as a new, cool leisure activity.
What is the relevance of this to the world of work? To the hyped-up, stressed-out executive struggling with fickle customers, a footloose workforce, red tape etc, turning a profit looks a tricky enough goal and a decent salary an ample reward for meeting it. Work can stretch you too far, as our third work/life survey with Ceridian Performance Partners reveals.
Too many people feel the balance in their life is shot to pieces. No fewer than 43% of respondents now say their loyalties are to themselves and their careers, rather than to their employers - and they don't expect to be working in the same firm two years from now.
But for a lucky few, a way forward is emerging. Talk to 20-somethings in the burgeoning digital consultancies, for example: a cadre of creative young folk who can pick and choose their employer, they dictate the terms on which they will bring their talents to bear. For them, business and creativity have much in common with play. They say things such as: it is business that allows me to explore who I am and choose how to express myself - you have to give free play to the intellect to allow creativity.
Naive? Maybe. Certainly for those under the cosh in mainstream industry, this idea must seem a distant dream. Yet, ironically, in this brave new world of advances such as the internet and the human genome project, society is in thrall to people who understand the world at a deeper level, whose lives are creative because they have chosen to pursue the less-travelled path of 'slow wins'.