It doesn’t come as any surprise to most of us that from time to time, we all seek the help of experts. But, how would a cave man have felt about needing to consult another cave man about his sore back or needing to attend a popular cave convention to improve his hunting skills?
Between now and whenever then is, something has changed. The caveman was in control of his own destiny.
So what’s changed? We now have very different living standards. I’m typing this in an apartment 60 odd metres off the ground on a windy night and I’m quite comfortable. And warm. Would I know how to build this shelter for myself if relied upon? No. Am I happy someone knows how to? Yes.
The obvious answer is specialisation. Knowledge specialisation if you like. Certain people I know know more about molecular biotechnology or Russian literature respectively than the caveman probably knew about the world around him. But could they survive if left in the jungle? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want to try.
But why write this now? Wondering this myself, I questioned what made me think about the issue. Everyday, people seem to be looking to others for the answers to problems that they should probably try to solve themselves. I think this is more the case now than 10 years ago but realistically my 16 year old self probably wasn’t the best judge.
I notice myself doing it these days. More so than I used to. Thinking back again, the caveman probably still learnt some skills from a small group of others but to imagine him needing to spend 5 years studying before he felt competent to go about his life is a little unbelievable. Similarly, 50 years ago I’d say people still sought out the confirmation of experts. In a book called Influence, the author labels one of his 8 main tools of persuasion as authority. So there is evidence that people have a tendency to both seek and submit to the authority of experts.
But I think it is changing. Becoming further entrenched. Everything now needs to be backed up by a source. By an expert. By Google. Just Google it. At lunch today, instead of remembering the French translation of scallops (don’t ask), I nearly got my iPhone out and Googled it. When I was in Perth recently and the Budget car rental was out of Navmen, I was genuinely worried until my 14 year old self’s navigation skills kicked in.
So we’re super specialised. Super technologised. Yes, we benefit from it. I love being able to perfect my fruit ninja skills in my iPhone dojo on the bus home. But is it worth it? If asked to recreate the gadgets of the world we live in without the proprietary knowledge of the world’s biggest companies, I know I couldn’t. Cameras. LCD screens. Computers. Mobile Phones. Best of luck with that.
In my opinion, we’re now on more of a roller coaster ride than past generations used to be. Somewhat out of control but enjoying it. Less time to think for ourselves. We need degrees to say we know how to do something. To imply to others we’re worth listening to. People cling to intelligence like it is the passport to a secret cave of untold riches and happiness when it is available in spades.
I’m not necessarily saying that we’re not still in charge of our own destiny or that we’ve lost control. But I am saying that my preference over the coming years is going to be to understand things myself and rely on my own abilities. You get one life, I don’t think I want to spend mine following others.
Only comment below if you’re doing it from a prereleased iPhone 5 in the middle of a desert somewhere.