2.6. Don't Bemoan the Loss of Old Skills
All growth has a tragic element. Something is lost. Catastrophe is a prime agent of maturation. Unwelcome as it may sound, the Waorani had no choice but to "grow up." What enables one to say this is that every culture has no choice but to grow up. Our own fascination with digital technologies is no less na ve, and no less a blind toying with cultural catastrophe, than was the Waorani fascination with shotguns and radios. The difference between us and the Waorani of several decades ago is that, given our history with such things, we ought to know better.
On one way of viewing this history, it confronts us with a succession of tools giving us an opportunity to develop an ever-expanding array of skills and capacities. Increasingly, however, the peculiar challenge of our tools is that they invite us to ignore the matter of skills and capacities. Disastrously, they are advertised as labor-saving devices, and the main selling point lies in what we no longer need to do, not in the new skills we must develop if we truly want to master the new tools.
Bemoaning the loss of old skills is probably not the most productive way to criticize the new technologies. The greater need is to recognize that, precisely because of the labor-saving capabilities of our high-tech tools, the art of mastery demands greater skills and more arduous discipline than ever before. Think of the retail clerk, nearly all of whose former responsibilities in engaging the customer and providing feedback for the operation of the business are now taken over by computers. This clerk is as fully detached from an earlier set of skills as was Tomo with a shotgun in his hands. So we have a choice: simply to accept that the human being in this case is now little more than a "dumb assistant" to "intelligent machinery," or else to tackle the huge task of re-visioning employees' jobs, and the business itself, along more humane lines. The challenge in all this if we accept it puts us into continual tension with the machines surrounding us. It is a tension that Tomo could scarcely have noted with his blowgun.
But if we do accept the challenge, then I'm convinced we will not really find ourselves abandoning the older skills not, at least, in the sense that counts. A qualitative and sensitive openness to our environment today the kind of openness where we move beyond technical information about people and things to a qualitative meeting with them, learning to recognize their characteristic expressions and gestures, learning what it is like to be in that other place, what are the poisonous and the curative elements in our surroundings this is not so much a negation of Tomo's skills as an extension of them. And in cultivating these skills we will find not only that our relations to the technologized world become healthier, but so also our relations to the natural world that sustains us.