Monday, August 27, 2007

Jack-of-All-Trades, Master-of-None

The other day, I was eating lunch and surfing the Internet – you know, the restaurant had a "hot spot". As I was googling something, I started wondering about the technology that allowed me to surf wireless. I really don't know how the technology works. I sort of knew about networks with wire – how packets travel through wires and do things. I don't know exactly what they do, but it sort of makes sense. With wireless, I have not a clue.

Wireless phones I sort of get – that the signal travels to towers and then to satellites. It seems simpler.

I don't understand astronomy – how gravity works, how the Universe keeps expanding, how astronomers use radio waves to see the stars. It does not make sense to me.

Well, the point is not that there is a whole lot I don't know. The point is that we cannot be masters of everything. When I was a little girl, I wanted to know how to speak all languages so I could understand everyone all of the time. Then there was the time I wanted to be able to identify all species of bird and mammal. Not sure why I neglected all of the other species, but I did. And it would have been better to identify all insect species – since there are hundreds of thousands more species of them – and I could be some sort of freak, being able to rattle off several species in minutes.

Then there was the time I wanted to be able to recite all of the Shakespearian sonnets, mostly to piss off a teacher who gave me a "C" for not being able to memorize fourteen lines.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we cannot all be experts of all things. Most of us have very limited areas of expertise, and we have to rely on others with the rest. Therefore, it is more important to be able to filter out the bad experts and know when you are listening to the more informed experts. And having that skill far surpasses knowing N|u, Haiphong or Tanzanian.

9 comments:

Advizor said...

Jack of all trades - master of none.

The story of my life. At work and at home we are asked to know a little bit about a lot of things, and a lot about a few things. I only know a little bit about computers, networks, servers, and the Internet, but I know a lot about how to manage the people who know computers, networks, and servers.

I only know a little bit about women, but I know a lot about sex.

I know next to nothing about players, stats, records, and the playoffs, but I know that I love to play golf, football in the park, softball in summer, and going swimming year round.

I only know a little bit about Leesa, but I know I love all of her writing.

RWA said...

You are exactly right. While it is impossible to know everything, it is not impossible to learn which experts know what their talking about - and which ones are full of it.

kathi said...

What you said about wanting to speak all the different languages when you were little brought back memories, I wanted to be able to do that too! Had forgotten all about that.

You learn after MANY years (like me) who stays strong in reliable information and who fades away as quacks...Charlie is learning this and it's hard to listen to him quote people who are well known idiots, but only well known to adults. Then I remember how when I was young and would talk about politics and such and my parents would tell me I had no idea what I was talking about. They were right, but I don't tell that to Charlie ~ we all find out in our own time.

QUASAR9 said...

lol Leesa,
that's why there are so many specialities
Sure one may want to cure people, but one cannot cure everyone or everything, so the best one can do is be good at curing one thing.

As for general knowledge most of us are hack of all trades ...
I remember when I could name every model of every car ever made - nowdays I simply don't have the time
I rmember when I could name every major band and every record they ever made ... nowdays I wouldn't even know where to start.

And if we hadn't all heard of Shakespeare (or Cervantes) we'd have few things in common to ever refer to.

Gosh I remember when I could name all the national soccer teams and all the major players, but hey do you know how many major league soccer teams there are in Europe?

So, I guess we all need a certain amount of general knowledge for conversation, and after that there are so many fields of interest that we need only pick & choose

QUASAR9 said...

But I'm pleased to say that Google sky will make it just as easu for the next generation to name the galaxies and major stars, as it was for our generation to name the majot cities and capital of nation (and states) on Earth.

Just think our grandparents a century ago only had a portion of the volume of information we hold in our heads - how to work a PC or laptop? how to use a mobile? how to use a credit card and remember the pin, and how many wines are on the shelves, how many channels on tv, how many lotteries can 1 win.

After all the next generation can already make us feel sort of inept do we know the latest computer games, do we know the latest ipod download, do we know the latest skateboard or surf move - Man I feel sooo out of date, almost obsolete, lol!

mal said...

There is no question that our knowledge base is much to complex to be mastered by anyone. We store so much of it in our language that it becomes boggling in its size.

We so often Ho-Hum what was at one time an incredible intuitive leap that I do not think we fully appreciate the genius of it.

I think my point is that we know so much more than our ancestors did about the nature of things but it is still a smaller percentage of the total.

I hope I never quit learning

Ian Lidster said...

When I was a very young boy I used to think there were little tiny people inside the radio. My knowledge of that or any other form of electronic communication hasn't advanced much since then. But, now I care less and less about what I don't know.
And, like you Leesa, I'd love to understand a multipliciy of languages, but only so I could read their literature 'not' in translation. Oh, and to be able to order a coffee in a Frency cafe without having the waiter look at me disdainfully.

seattledrizzle said...

I've often wondered what minimal knowledge might be required to get by in this life. For example, my grandmother only made it through the second year in highschool before she had to leave school and get a full time job to help support their family, yet she ended up enjoying her life and being a pretty smart woman (possibly due to watching alot of jeapordy).

My first job was at a fast food restaurant, Arby's. When I started working their, they had the mechanical style cash registers. You had to memorize all the prices. You were expected to take 2 3, or 4 orders at a time (memorized) during the lunch rush. Now this same Arby's as the fancy cash registers with the item name on the key buttons. But the service is ALOT slower! More technology doesn't always mean better (or even friendlier) service.

Leesa said...

advisor: knowing more about women may make the sex better. I know a little about a lot of things, but would rather be an expert on something.

rwa: and it is so hard, sometimes, to know the experts. Think about mutual funds.

kathi: sometimes I wanted to know a language just to easedrop.

quasar: I once wanted to know how to identify the constallations. Now I just want to be able to see stars on a clear night. Darned light polution.

mal: I think sometimes our ancestors had to be more elegant with respect to how they approached a problem. Now we just beat on a problem with technology.

ian: you mean there are not tiny people inside my radio?

seattle: sometimes it is easier to key in $8.95 into a cash register than to look for a certain combo meal.