Lost Skills

October 23, 2009

Everyday we lose skills that have taken years to develop and hone. We read about how hunters and gatherers can live in the woods without any outside technology helping them survive. They have learned which plants to eat, which animals to hunt and how to make their own shelter from available materials.

The average modern urbanite would be unable to survive in the woods, unable to know what to do, unable to navigate home without a GPS system.

But people in remote areas do it all the time. Think of the skills that may have taken millennia to learn and can disappear in a generation or two. Much like languages are disappearing world-wide these skills will not be replaceable as humanity bets on constant progress and dependency on technology.  Even technology gets lost, such as the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient Greek computer that confounded its discoverers with its complexity.

In advertising over the past years since we went digital, there are no longer mechanical artists, optical benches, dye transfer retouching, font suppliers, tape editors who can cut and splice, printing plate makers, or even “lucy” machines that we used to adjust layouts.

Here is a list of some skills that I have noticed that have recently become extinct:

  • Faxing – So far this week, I have been asked to sign and send four forms. The fax back number on the form didn’t work 50% of the time. Anyway, no one seems to know how to use the fax anymore. There were few who mastered this technology to the black belt level – being able to do more than just put in the number to send to and hit send. Now no one even knows how to do that. So what’s the deal – does that little machine make a pdf?
  • Map Folding – It almost took a master in origami to fold the map back up and many never mastered this obsolete skill, especially my wife. The map doesn’t talk to you while you are driving, like my wife or the GPS system. Why do we even have these collections of maps?
  • Letters – No one sends written letters any more. People can hardly write using a pen. And licking a stamp is definitely a lost skill since they are all self-adhesive. Which corner of the envelope does the stamp go on?
  • Playing records – Those large black CDs have a huge hole in them and won’t fit in my computer. What do I do with them?
  • Making Change – If the person at the cash register doesn’t enter the amount you have given, they have no idea how to give you change from your purchase. Try this anarchistic test: buy something for say, $21.26 and wait for it to be rung in. Then give the cashier a $20 bill, a five, a quarter and penny.  If they had assumed $25 would be paid, they will not know how to calculate your change.  Guaranteed! They have been trained to give what the cash register tells them and can no longer think.
  • Making Popcorn on a stove top – Doesn’t the stove top heat burn the bag if you try this?
  • Using a rotary phone – How does this work? Where are the buttons to push? How do you text with this thing? I heard you pick up the phone that is on the string and ask for someone by name. And why is it attached to the wall?
  • Understanding an analog clock – Why is it round. What are those sticks turning around for. Why doesn’t it just tell the time?
  • Stick Shift – Do drivers, outside of sports car afficionados and long haul truckers, still have the ability to shift gears manually?
  • Knowing Stuff in General – Why bother, Google it.  And if you need more details, look in Wikipedia.

Send me your list. I am sure there are more than these.

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