When I was in high school, I took a typing course. It was part of the curriculum I needed to graduate, but aside from that, I had no idea what I could possibly do with the skill. Flash forward fifteen or so years, I’m typing all the time. It has been a skill I’ve consistently used on the job and off.
There’s the old saying that it’s better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it. With skillsets that’s definitely true. At the very least, it can give one bragging rights at mastering a difficult activity or acquiring a specific set of facts. Learning HTML around the start of the World Wide Web led to my career in Information Technology, even though my time as a “web developer” was short-lived. Many potential employers have wondered how I transformed a Masters in Creative Writing into twenty plus years in computer support.
When I was a child, my mother gave me a hobby subscription where each month I would receive a different model to build. One month, it was a replica of the lunar lander, another was a snap together rendering of Snoopy on his doghouse. Some were rather easy to put together, but quite a few required much time and attention to get right. These were my favorites, because, with each, I was honing my skills at following a diagram and attention to detail, which I still employ today in my writing. Genealogy is another pursuit which has helped with my writing. Developing timelines for characters is a must for managing storylines involving numerous characters and time periods.
Historically, reading and writing were skills very few people possessed. It wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that universal literacy became the norm rather than the exception. In antiquity, those with resources employed individuals who were, essentially, word processors to handle their correspondence. Most of the Biblical epistles written by evangelists such as Paul were dictated to scribes and read before congregations who had to take it on faith that they were hearing an accurate rendering of the words. Because of this the true meaning of many of the scriptures has gotten lost as we no longer understand the audience for which they were directed or the vocal inflections of the person reading them.
Nowadays, it’s rare to encounter people who can’t read or write, particularly in industrialized nations. Despite this many have an aversion to knowledge, believing that those most knowledgeable are the ones to be least trusted. The rise of anti-intellectualism, especially in the United States, is one of the greatest threats facing our species today. Few people would trust home repairs to someone with no verifiable track record, but scientists, who study the natural world and make pronouncements on what they observe are considered charlatans who are needlessly wringing their hands over nothing.
Skills are valuable assets, particularly in an information economy where knowledge is a commodity. Most people aspire to leave the next generation better informed and prepared for the challenges awaiting. Development of skills doesn’t just benefit the individual by opening up opportunities, it benefits society by insuring that we have experts who can address any problems that crop up. While it is wise to maintain a bit of skepticism in dealing with information brokers, we shouldn’t be afraid to listen to those who’ve spent their lives learning about a subject or honing a particular skill.