The Amateur

Once, when I had just leaped off a perfectly stable cliff with no tigers in sight determined to taste a bite of me, I read a theologian’s comment that our society had become so specialized that we had painted ourselves individually into a corner. I obviously don’t like corners. I was not only validated but intrigued. He went on to talk about a bygone day when everyone did everything, or at least tried. Now we are much better at what we do, know much more about less, and are dependent on each other in often alienating ways. Instead of asking a neighbor to help with our washing machine we often have to hire a stranger or buy a new one, especially since we don’t have time to learn how to fix ours. That’s a darn sight different from my grandparents’ experience.

Pinterest and personal computers and Home Depot have freed us to a degree from the tyranny of specification, a specification that is almost entirely driven by our need to provide for our families. We can access a collective database of knowledge to which people often give with no thought of return and learn how to do something as if our handy neighbor were standing by our side (though certainly it’s a bit harder to have a cookie with our digital mentor after we’re done and talk about how the kids are doing). We are a different kind of amateur, if a bit more lonely one. A different kind of altruism and interdependence has arisen.

Still, I wonder if the urge to know more widely is impossible to squelch and is driving these changes. Social scientists tell us that this generation is likely to have at least 5 career changes, several of which will be in entirely separate fields. Those coming of age now of necessity will know less about more. I wonder what the universe is trying to tell us and professionalism and connection.

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1 Comment

  1. The argument over a breadth of knowledge vs. depth of knowledge is an interesting one. A lot of people lament the fact that we are no longer taking the time to master specific skills or subjects. Sometimes I find myself in that camp (feeling a lack of ability to focus on one thing for very long). But then again, our ability to know and experience a wide variety of things in a shorter period of time is pretty great. You could even argue that not having to spend time learning how to fix the washing machine gives us more time to indulge in things that we are passionate about.

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