Technology killing off vital skills – Part 1

According to The Daily Mail Online twenty vital skills are apparently dying out in our “world of technology and convenience”. Naturally I found myself checking how I measured up against the list. Do I have what it takes to survive in a world without tech? If Google goes offline and the world wide web unravels, will I be able to keep the threads of my life together?

I’ll take the first two together, as they really are related, some might say inseparable, skills: Reading a Map and Using a Compass. I can do both, and if it’s a proper topographical map I can even compensate for magnetic declination and calculate the exact co-ordinates of specific landmarks. These skills thanks to lots of camping and hiking growing up, studying for a career where I can be expected to take youngsters out into the wilderness to teach them these very skills, and of course my brief stint as a Geography teacher.

Compass and Maps

Tying a Specific Knot. Let’s see…I can do a half-hitch, clove-hitch, square knot, figure-eight, figure-nine and can rig a rope pulley system. What about a bow-line, you ask? Hang on. I’ve got an app for that…

Darning Socks. Okay. You’ve got me there. I can sew, however, so I’m pretty sure I’d be able to figure it out if push comes to shove. I know one can use a light bulb…

Looking Something Up In a Book Using an Index. My university years were right at the start of the millennium, when the internet was not yet in our phones (remember the Nokia Brick?) and Google was neither a verb nor an “ecosystem”. Many happy hours were spent on my college library’s floor with various tomes lying open around me. Those were the days.

Writing a Letter Correctly. Don’t they teach this in schools any more? That’s where I learnt it, and in fact I taught it as well (English teacher, remember?) But I suppose thanks to email and text messaging this knowledge, along with knowledge of proper Spelling and Grammar has fallen by the wayside. Not for me, though. I does gramer ferry good!!!

Now, I don’t know about calling Understanding Pounds, Ounces (along with Converting them to Kilograms and Grams), Feet and Inches an essential skill. I’m pretty sure these were only included because The Daily Mail is a British publication. I can convert pounds and feet to the approximate kilogram and metre values, but that’s because of technology. I never learned these units, as I live in a country that uses the metric system. I don’t get why anyone still mucks about with imperial units, truth be told. It’s completely illogical.

FireStarting a Fire. I’m a little concerned about the word-choice here. “Making a Fire” feels like a legitimate activity. “Starting a fire” sounds like something pyromaniacs do. Also, does starting a fire with a lighter count? For the record, I can start charcoal, dry wood and green wood fires with only matches and no accelerants provided I have good kindling (camper, remember?) I’ve never actually started a fire with flint and steel, but I’m sure I’d be able to if needed. This skill is unlikely to die out any time soon in South Africa, unless some idiot in government decides to make a law against braaiing (I’m sad to say I wouldn’t put it past them).

So, halfway through the list my prospects for survival are looking pretty good. How are you doing so far?

Remember to tune in later this week for part 2.

17 thoughts on “Technology killing off vital skills – Part 1

  1. This issue of modern tech causing us to loser older skills surfaced for me when I wrote my book on earthquakes in New Zealand. One of the themes was the way these quakes have become deeper disasters now than they used to be, because in the 1840s and 1850s, many of the things required now to survive without a water supply, sewerage reticulation, power and so forth, were all just ways of life. Consequently, for instance, the people of Wellington survived the 1855 ‘big one’ with considerably less dislocation than occurred when a similarly destructive quake hit Hawke’s Bay in 1931, and materially less than the 2010-11 quakes that flattened Christchurch. Today very few New Zealanders (as proxies for the western civilised world) have proper survival skills, including fire-making from scratch…

    I should add – I was brought up, as a kid, with the old Imperial system (NZ changed in 1976), thus causing me to relentlessly mix up SI and Imperial units with free abandon these days. I ‘think’ in both. Most confusing.

    1. What a bad host I am, never responding to your comment.

      I think you put your finger on the crux of the matter. If a solar flare knocked out all the electricity, or a hurricanet or earthquake severely disrupts infrastructure, do we have the skills to survive until we can get everything working again? Knowing how to find potable water is the most vital skill, shortly followed closely by knowing how to make a fire to keep warm and, on the other side, fight the fires that will inevitably occur in those circumstances. And knowing how to defend your family against looters is just as crucial, seeing that humans as a species are not what you’d call nice most of the time.

  2. So I guess if technology goes wacky then I can darn a pair of socks to keep my toes warm, look up some reference in a textbook, and write a letter to see about a job. I can’t do the other things but I’m sure if pushed to the limit, people will find a way navigate the world.

    1. But if technology really goes bonkers, would there even be jobs about which to write? And who will deliver the letter? What is certain is that we’ll have to stick together, the fire-starters, map readers and sock darners helping each other out.

      1. That’s true and that’s how the jobs would pop up again. The post office would get more business and we’d all have to learn patience as we rely more heavily on snail mail.

    1. Which skills would you be talking about here? I do have some thoughts about the skills included on this list in the first place, but I’m getting to those. I will say now that, should the world go completely post-apocalyptic on us, most of these skills won’t serve us very well either.

      1. But was memorisation really a skill before books? Before writing knowledge was transferred through lore and stories, not through memorising facts. Memorisation is actually a product of the written age, but it is also one that is getting lost due to technology, which is why the second half of the Mail’s list mentions it.

      2. Through listening and retelling. For oral societies this was an integral part of their socialisation, thus, in my opinion, a natural process. In other words, it happened unconsciously, rather than the conscious memorisation required to, for example, know your bank account and social security number. Certainly the priests and shamans had their songs, rituals and incantations that were learned by rote, but they were the exception, rather than the rule.

  3. Girl Guides and a love of books (dead tree variety) is my excuse for a lot of those skills. Even if I knit, in a country where flipflops are de rigueur, darning and taking up trousers aren’t really skills I need to worry about, I think. 🙂

    1. And taking up trousers is not that complicated to start with. I do have to wonder whether the decline in knitting and sock-darning is really due to technology, though, but more on that later.

      1. Darning is in decline because we have a throwaway culture, but knitting? I very much doubt that, unless you’re comparing it to the 1850-1940 time frame.

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