All the Simple Skills

Blog No. 45

Of course my last blog was about how nice and cool the weather was getting and we get a couple of the hottest days of the year.  That’s just typical, but I’m not going to dwell on it.  Instead I’m going to write about dishwashers and word processors.  Did you know that there is a proper way to make tea?  Depending on what culture you are talking about there are whole ceremonies surrounding the preparation and service of tea.  Heating the water, warming the pot, arranging the cups and tray, aging the leaves, letting the water overflow in just the right way, making the perfect movements when serving the finished brew.  It’s all very specific.  Even if you are taking about a good old English cup of tea there are people who lament the way it used to be made.

I grew up in a house that drank a lot of tea and there are days when I just want to put the kettle on drop a teabag into a mug and let it steep.  It’s fast, easy and you end up with a pretty decent cup of tea.  It’s good enough, but is it worth it?  I can’t say I have ever had a proper cup of tea; I don’t know what I’m missing.  I could probably go the rest of my life not knowing how to make that proper cup of tea and be perfectly happy.  But if everyone is fine with using an electric kettle and a prepackaged tea bag we may lose the whole concept of that properly made cup of tea.  Is the easy way and the idea of good enough worth the loss?

You may be thinking that I am being overly dramatic over something as silly as tea but it’s only the introduction to the post and is meant to be symbolic of the theme.  Is convenience worth the loss of skill?  There is a growing movement of dedicated (and often eccentric) individuals who are devoted to learning skills that our modern society has made obsolete (or unnecessary).  Right now they are on the fringe but some of those skills (which were common in every household not so long ago) may come in very handy if the systems we currently have in place can’t last forever.

Some of those skills are as simple as making candles or sewing or gardening and others are more specific like butchering and hat making (or millinery if you want to use the proper term).  Many of the skills can be just as useful for saving some money as for making a niche business or preserving the skill for when our society falls.  Some of them are just neat and it would be a shame if they are lost or become the domain of professionals or businesses.

I can’t be the only one who has wondered what happens when computers and appliances do everything for us.  I’m certainly not against appliances.  I think washing machines, dishwashers and vacuums are a blessing in our lives.  There wouldn’t be much lost if no one knew the secret techniques to washing a plate efficiently.  (Not to mention there are still many people to whom a dishwasher is a luxury item – me included).  But look at spelling.  I wouldn’t want to lose the spellchecker on my computer for anything, but some people argue that having a spellchecker makes people poor spellers.  There are a lot of poor spellers but (in my case at least) it is usually the education (or lack of) that is the root of the cause.  And while I am a terrible speller my spelling is usually flawless (I said usually so there is no need to co combing through my posts and bring up all the places I have made a mistake).  Because I know my spelling is so bad I constantly check in my dictionary to make sure.

But I digress (a lot in that last paragraph).  Some skills will never be mourned if lost, some won’t be mourned until something happens and we miss it and some are already mourned by some.

It’s the outsiders who are working hard to keep some of these skills alive and I think we should be a little more thankful.  I may never need to know how to sword fight or make my own armour but I think it is really cool (and important) that there are role players who are skilled blacksmiths and can make a set of armour in their back yard with no electronics.  There are plenty of artisans and people who use traditional tools to craft things who are considered outcasts and are told by those around them to move on and do things the easy way, but I am thankful that they are still toiling away keeping not just a skill but a way of thinking alive.

I don’t need a table made by hand, but no one can doubt that they are better made than the mass-produced furniture available now.  Even outside of the obscure there is place for skills like canning and preserving food, especially if the more pessimistic are right and our wasteful ways are catching up with us.  And if they are wrong there is still a movement of people who appreciate knowing how to make their own food without the preservatives and other additives that come from large companies.  (Not that I’m against going to the store and buying everything I could want).

I’m not going to make a list of skills and categorize them based on my opinion.  That would be a long and boring list.  I will make the point that any skill lost – no matter how mundane – results in a fundamental loss for our society but as long as there are dedicated people who don’t mind being labeled weird some of the more useful or interesting skills will still be kept in tact.  And if you think I’m just a kook who is overly sentimental look at the number of car thieves who have been thwarted by not knowing how to drive stick.  Who’s a kook now?  (Still me probably but I’m a kook with a manual).


2 thoughts on “All the Simple Skills

  1. Some people give me sarcastic remarks or look at me funny when they find out I crochet. Or that I know how to sew (I’m still not fantastic at it, but I can do it). Or that I can do old century calligraphy. There are so many old skills that are useful to this day, yet a lot of people don’t want to take the time to learn. I remember learning to sew when I was 12, at a community center class I was signed up in. Honestly, I miss those classes. I may have to sign up for one again in the near future.

  2. The joke’s going to be on them when you fix the hole that will inevitably find its way into your sock and they have to go buy new ones.
    What’s going to happen when no one knows how to do that anymore? Is there ever going to be a time for that. It reminds me of a Philip K. Dick story (as most things do) where a society lost its ability to manufacture because they left it in the hands of creatures who could duplicate anything they needed, but when the creatures died out they were left with no ability to make anything on their own.

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