Monday, December 29, 2008

The End of Skill

Adam got a George Foreman Grillâ„¢ for Christmas, and since it's another appliance in our kitchen I've spent some time toying with it. It was during this bit of exploration that I began thinking.

The GFG only has one setting. On. If it's not on, it's unplugged. It's for people who don't know how to cook. From my testing I've found that if you follow the directions you'll get sufficient but sub-par food. If you incorporate a few basic tricks you'll get sufficient on-par food, and all of this can be done without knowing anything about how to cook.

This kind of simplification seems to be more common as time goes by. These skills aren't tricky, but they're skills that you don't inherently have, and now you don't have to have them. If you actually learn how to cook you can make much better food, but sufficiency is only one step away.

I'm beginning to worry that the ideal of convenience has begun to erode the basic merit of skill.

It's not that skill is no longer valued, it is, it's that skill is no longer normalized. If society as a whole accepts that you don't have to know how to do things, then nobody will know how to do anything. Cooking is a simple starting point because it fills one of the absolute needs, but as I look around the world seems poised to become increasingly helpless. This kind of mechanical dependency worries me in a way that I haven't fully articulated yet, but it seems deeply grim.


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