A while back, I read an article called “8 Skills Our Parents Had That We Don’t.” It’s not a list of obsolescent techniques, it’s a list of things that once most people could manage, which are still around, and with today’s “convenience” society, the younger people no longer seem to be able to do. It struck me, not just because it made me feel old, but I realized that just how many of those things I know how to do along with other things that I see the younger generation unable to do. I’m not talking about something like “fixing a television set by replacing a vacuum tube,” or build a crystal radio set, which, yes, I once did in my youth and most people wouldn’t see any need for it. It’s the other things the younger generation has lost along the way.
Finding and picking berries, nuts, and fruit. One of the joys I remember from my childhood was going out and picking berries. It was one of the ways our parents got us out of their hair for a while. We were handed buckets and told to go fill them with whatever berry happened to be ripe at the time. Wild strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc., you name it, we knew what they were and were experts at finding and cleaning out various patches. The same thing held true for nut and fruit trees. Apples, cherries, black walnuts, beechnuts and others were something we knew where one grew and were available for harvest and snacking. On a list of “healthy things” we did back then, that probably ranks right up there. Not only were we getting exercise, we were eating things that most dietitians are saying kids should eat more of, in addition to having a lot of fun. Today? Well, I’m saddened that kids will walk right by them, and their parents aren’t sure whether they’re “safe.” While I appreciate availability of a loaded berry bush, it’s stunning to see a bunch of kids running by it without even giving it a glance. I’ve even had people look right at an apple tree, and wonder if it was “safe to eat those.” Umm… yeah, they’re apples!
Reading a map. I’m not talking about “here’s a topographic map with grid coordinates and a compass” sort of map reading. I’m talking about simple road maps. With the advent of GPS navigation, people’s ability to read a road map (or follow verbal directions) seems to have vanished. I’ve had the experience, and I’ve heard it from a lot of others, of people who can’t quite seem to grasp the concept that sometimes, a GPS isn’t the be-all and end-all, and that you really need to look at a map.
Build a fire. Not “flint and steel” or “bow and drill” fire starting, but just building a simple campfire. It’s amazing having watched people struggle, or just not bother, to build a simple fire using matches or a lighter. It’s something that most of the people my age learned early on, and it’s really not that hard.
Be disconnected. I’m a techie. I’ve been a computer geek for decades, and I spend a lot of time on the Internet. I blog, I tweet, I e-mail, I do any number of things with technology over the course of the day. But, I’m perfectly able to not be “connected” at times. No cell phones, no e-mail, no instant messages, etc. I don’t get withdrawal symptoms, and I actually have a good time reading a book or sitting around with friends talking. Too many of the younger people I see these days have absolute conniption fits if they’re not in constant electronic contact.
Do arithmetic without a calculator. I’m showing my age again, but when I went to school, calculators didn’t exist. We had to (horror!) memorize multiplication tables, and do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division by hand, using pencil and paper. For simple things, we could even do it in our head. No, it wasn’t fun to get through it. Even after calculators became common and cheap, many states didn’t allow them to be used in the classroom until the mid to late ’80′s. Here’s the thing: If my younger co-workers don’t have a calculator to hand, they’re lost. I appreciate having one, and yes, I do use them, but I don’t need it. If one isn’t available, I do it by hand.
That’s just a short list of things I thought of after reading that article. They’re simple things, that most of us in our late 40′s or older could – and still can – do quite easily. They’re not even obsolete, but it’s rather sad to see so many of the younger generation unable to do them.