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Author Topic: Dead skills?
edgmatt
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I asked a student of mine, age 14, what time it was. He said he didn't know how to tell time on a clock.

My instant reaction was that this is bad. If kids aren't learning how to tell time on a clock...

...and that's when I couldn't think of any reason why this was bad.

Why do we need this skill anymore? Everything is digital or in numbers. Is there any situation where being able to tell time on a clock is pertinent?

There are a bunch of skills society has lost over the years, that at one time were considered invaluable and necessary for functioning.

Horseback riding for example. It was the mode of transportation. Kids learned how to ride a horse as part of their daily routine. The invention of the automobile made that skill fade away.

I can think of a few more examples, like sewing, archery, how to make a fire, how to shoot a gun and how to kill and clean an animal, which were skills society used to know how to do (generally) but do not today because the need for them is nearly non-existent. They are more like hobby skills or for recreation.

So I think reading a clock might be going the way of the sun dial. We just don't need to have that skill anymore.

What other skills, that we consider important today, might be fading or on their way out?

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LetterRip
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Cooking - probably few need to have this skill now compared to historical - most people can live off of restaurant or microwave or stuff that is so close to completely prepared in advance calling it cooking is a bit silly.

Musical skills - playing an instrument or singing - used to be a huge part of peoples entertainment, now you can get it prerecorded or engage in numerous other forms of entertainment.

Farming and animal husbandry.

Mechanical skills/car maintenance skills - at one point most men were expected to know how to change oil, timing belts, and other vehicle maintenance.

Building skills - chopping down trees, planning, notching, drilling, etc. Only a subset of the population needs to know how to do these things.

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cherrypoptart
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Writing by hand, and spelling. It might be hard to believe that these skills would someday go by the wayside, but looking around at some of these kids nowadays, you begin to wonder...
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Jordan
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quote:
Cherry:
Writing by hand[…]

I'm tempted to second this, as my penmanship has went from a nice English round hand to a hopeless squiggle over the course of years spent typing much more often than writing. That said, writing is such a generally useful skill that I suspect it will remain with us for some time.

(Isaac Asimov once wrote a somewhat far-fetched story about people forgetting how to do even basic mathematics, and being shocked to the core by a man showing them how to do it by hand; this always comes to mind when people talk about common skills going into decline.)

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TheRallanator
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I think I can safely say that reading a clock isn't dying out quite yet, and your student was just surprisingly uninformed. Old-fashioned clockfaces may have been made obsolete by digital displays, but they're still generally considered the classier option and they're still all over the place.

And meanwhile we live in a world where there are people who are quite happy to learn how to knap flint, use the flint tools they've just made to make a bow out of wood and sinew, and then use that bow to try and stick flint-headed arrows into a deer. So I think it's safe to say that hobbyists are gonna keep pretty much any skill you care to mention alive.

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Jordan
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quote:
Rallan:
I think it's safe to say that hobbyists are gonna keep pretty much any skill you care to mention alive.

I think it's safe to say that Rallan's correct, though edgmatt was talking about skills still being needed on more than a recreational basis.
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Viking_Longship
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quote:
Originally posted by cherrypoptart:
Writing by hand, and spelling. It might be hard to believe that these skills would someday go by the wayside, but looking around at some of these kids nowadays, you begin to wonder...

My handwriting has always been bad because of my dyslexia, but I would agree that generally people don't seem very concerned with penmanship, or for that matter, very concerned about style.
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Viking_Longship
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To actually meet the criteria we'd have to be talking about skills that are fading away now, not ones that went out a generation or two ago, no?

Doing math on paper, particularly things like longhand division.

Maintainence of clothing, i.e. patching, replacing buttons, removing stains, and even ironing.

Going to second auto maintainence, though I don't see why one couldn't aquire the new skills.

I think cooking is going through a bit of a revival now thanks to the current fad with all the cooking shows. The big loss of skills there, as I understand, was in the 1950s and 60s.

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PSRT
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quote:
Cooking - probably few need to have this skill now compared to historical - most people can live off of restaurant or microwave or stuff that is so close to completely prepared in advance calling it cooking is a bit silly.
I would argue this skill going from "need," to "hobby," is behind a large number of health problems. Also, home cooking is booming compared to 20 years ago.
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edgmatt
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Writing was the other skill I had thought of. I also think the difference between writing and spelling needs to be pointed out.

I think writing might be something that will fade out, even though we consider it important right now. Who writes letters, articles, or anything longer than a shopping list or notes in History class? Even those two things are writings for the writer. No one writes something down for someone else to read, so the penmanship isn't important, and spelling isn't really needed too much either.

Spelling, though, I think will be around as long as there are words. I get worried when I see college graduates using texting language in their class papers.

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Seriati
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Reading a clock is one that could die out and not cost us much, it's not like anyone but a specialist ever had the skill to make a clock. Frankly, using a sun dial is a better skill to have because its one that you can implement yourself from start to finish.

Similarly making and using a fire is a good skill to have in the "just in case category."

But of all the skills you listed, writing by hand and doing math by hand are two that is would scare me if they died out. Not understanding simple math is paralyzing where you don't have electronic aids available. And losing the ability to take direct notes and/or read script is going to really harm people in a lot of professions.

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Ryoko
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Re: Clocks

Wow...the idea that people in the future would stand around in front of Big Ben (or any other major clock in a town square, etc.) and be as mystified as those who view hieroglyphics is a scary thought.

[Smile]

Hickory dickory dock...the mouse did what now?

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Pyrtolin
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Compared to writing, spelling is more an relatively attempt to create a skill as a marketing tool for dictionaries. It might be better to let go of it and let language go back to evolving more naturally.
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Chael
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Spelling and dictionaries do tend to go hand in hand, but I don't think that statement is perfectly fair when applied to /all/ languages, rather than just English.

For example, the Italian Accademia della Crusca has existed since 1582, and didn't publish a dictionary until 1612! [Smile]

There are a couple of different mindsets on this topic, I believe. One is that making money is good. The other is that linguistic purity, whatever that means, is good.

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Chael
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More on topic: how about the skill of balancing a checkbook? It's still handy, but how many people get by well enough by using their bank's website instead?
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TheDeamon
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Balancing a checkbook, or maintaining a budget?

They're different skill sets anymore, mostly due to the bank website. But even then, they were still different things. One is about how much money you have, the other is about how you're planing to spend it, most people plan poorly if at all.

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JoshuaD
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
Compared to writing, spelling is more an relatively attempt to create a skill as a marketing tool for dictionaries. It might be better to let go of it and let language go back to evolving more naturally.

No. The world is greatly improved by standardized spelling.
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Chael
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Yes--I was thinking of the bare-bones 'how much money do you have' one. The planning one, the bank website doesn't help with.
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Carlotta
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Ooh, ooh, I have two!

One - using a phone card. A few years ago my cell phone was a long-distance number from our home phone, so I left our babysitter with a phone card so she could call us if she needed to. I had to explain to her how to use it.

Two - planning ahead for social events. Why bother when everyone has a cell phone? You can agree to meet somewhere, then change plans before you get there and just call or txt everyone.

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TheRallanator
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quote:
Originally posted by edgmatt:

I think writing might be something that will fade out, even though we consider it important right now. Who writes letters, articles, or anything longer than a shopping list or notes in History class? Even those two things are writings for the writer. No one writes something down for someone else to read, so the penmanship isn't important, and spelling isn't really needed too much either.

I disagree. Jack **** of the population could ever write worth a damn (find a highschool teacher who taught English back before computers were ubiquitious if you don't believe me [Smile] ), but as long as there's a market for the written word there's still gonna be an incentive for people with talent to become journalists or authors.

The only reason we think that good writing is becoming rarer is because the internet's provided a forum for everyone who can't write well to write publicly.

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edgmatt
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[LOL] Nice. Well I was just talking about the ability to write words coherently. I'm not talking about poetry or even proper writing, just 'knowing your letters' as Sam says.
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TheDeamon
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quote:
Originally posted by TheRallanator:
I disagree. Jack **** of the population could ever write worth a damn (find a highschool teacher who taught English back before computers were ubiquitious if you don't believe me [Smile] ), but as long as there's a market for the written word there's still gonna be an incentive for people with talent to become journalists or authors.

The only reason we think that good writing is becoming rarer is because the internet's provided a forum for everyone who can't write well to write publicly.

I'm going to agree with this. I'd further augment it by saying that

1) A significant portion of the population is barely literate, or only functionally so(they can read signs, forms, and other such documents, it just takes a little bit of time), as well. Recreational reading does not happen with them. You would hope that the Internet will help reduce the size of this population, as well as the advent of text messaging. However, as text messaging and internet chat rooms seem to have created a written language of their own, I'm doubting it is going to happen.

2) Another significant potion of the population is very lazy/sloppy in their online communication. They could do better if they chose to do so, but do not consider most online venues to "warrant the effort" for doing so. (I'm marginally in that category myself, only I don't consider writing at this level to take any effort so I'm sometimes baffled by that position when I see other express it.)

Except for the third group:

3) I've had occasion to know many very intelligent people who are literate and do a fair amount of reading. However, writing for them does take considerable effort.

What the cause for this difficulty is beyond the scope of any assistance I provided to them, be it intimidation from looking at a blank screen, or some childhood trauma at the hands of the English teacher, but regardless the outcome is the same: Writing out a message of any length, even a couple sentences, could literally take them several minutes per sentence.

[ March 11, 2011, 11:15 PM: Message edited by: TheDeamon ]

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Ben
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I remember reading the story Jordan mentioned. Seems a bit less absurd now...

How about slide rules? Anyone use them much lately? Library card catalogs? I know a lot of drafting equipment I started out on in architecture is being tossed for computers and CAD, but I'm not sure how far that goes in the art department. Edit to add: and what about film camera + film processing and photo developing?

[ March 11, 2011, 11:22 PM: Message edited by: Ben ]

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Viking_Longship
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quote:
what about film camera + film processing and photo developing?
Photography has been a succession of technologies pushing previous skills into obsolescence, including painting as a documentary medium.
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TheDeamon
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Although I think that analogue film and its processing isn't going to go completely away.

However, most hardcore photographers didn't take their film to a 1 hour photo place to begin with, so about the only thing they've likely noticed is that it is harder to get more file to use with their camera, and new equipment for their analogue camera is getting to be a little more involved. Mostly standardized lens sizes and fittings help make that less annoying than it could be as a counterpoint.

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TheRallanator
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Actually they probably haven't even noticed that. Serious photographers didn't go down to the one-hour photo place to pick up a disposable camera or a roll of Kodak's second-cheapest film like the rest of us, they got fancy-schmancy cameras, put fancy-schmancy attachments on them, and loaded them up with fancy-schmancy film. That's always been a bit of a boutique market, and I doubt digital cameras have impacted it nearly as much as they've changed photography for the masses. Partly because there'll always be photographers who want to get the authentic look and feel, and partly because for most of their history digital cameras didn't have anywhere near the resolution most artists and professionals needed.
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Animist
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Dead skills include:

* Operating a word processor
* Forcing a Nintendo Entertainment System to play the game you want when it's being finicky
* Programming a VCR

***

Meanwhile skills like cooking, agriculture, playing an instrument, and repairing a car are skills which:

1. Increase an individual's survival rate in a crisis
2. Increase an individual's independence and self-reliance, which are both good in and of themselves and also increase one's ability to thrive in any crisis from an economic downturn to a full-out gridcrash.
3. Allow an individual to achieve a high quality of life without a large income.

I predict that the next thirty years are going to see painful economic contractions, an increase in income inequality, and massive reductions in government services. The fact is that in decayed urban areas, areas with chronic unemployment, and among younger liberals a lot of these so-called dead skills are making a huge comeback.

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OpsanusTau
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I've been laughing at this thread, because most of the skills you all are talking about as "dead" really aren't. The people you know might not in general have the foggiest idea how to make clothes and mend them, grow food and prepare it for eating, handle and care for an animal and kill and dress it when it's time, play an instrument, clean things without using fancy and toxic products, build furniture, or change their own oil.

I have in fact come in contact with young Americans who are not capable of making macaroni and cheese from a box, walking a mile across town without GPS without getting lost, or scrubbing a toilet so it ends up cleaner than it started.

That does not mean that lacking life skills is universal. Even in America, there are plenty of people who know how to do things. And if we can all step out of our rich-western-nation upper-middle-class box for a minute, we can remember that most of the six-billion-odd people in the world have to take care of themselves because there's no corporate/government infrastructure to see to their every need.

Dead skills, my arse.

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OpsanusTau
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Looking back over this - apologies if my above post seems to have a rude tone. It wasn't meant that way at all, but I see how it could look like that. I was aiming more for a tone of gentle amusement.
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JWatts
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quote:
Originally posted by edgmatt:
I asked a student of mine, age 14, what time it was. He said he didn't know how to tell time on a clock.

My instant reaction was that this is bad. If kids aren't learning how to tell time on a clock...

...and that's when I couldn't think of any reason why this was bad.

I think the lack of skill itself is a bad sign, but the fact that the 14 year old hasn't bothered to learn a ubiquitous skill that shouldn't take more than 15 minutes to learn is a very bad sign. Odds are that if he's not competent there, he's not competent in a lot of other areas either.
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edgmatt
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That was my initial train of thought, and why I started this thread.

We consider reading a clock ubiquitous as you put it. I thought of it as "common knowledge". Like, *everyone* knows that George Washington was the first president, and *everyone* knows how to read a clock.

I thought, at first, that the lack of this skill is a bad sign, or a sign that he is not competent. He's a bit lazy, but intelligent. A bit of a nerd even. Why is not being able to read a clock a bad sign? Like I posted, we don't really need that skill anymore. Is it just something that is fading away? Like walking 5 miles uphill in the snow to get to school everyday, reading a clock might just be something we talk to our grand kids about. Same as being able to use an abacus maybe.

I guess I could have named this thread "Skills we normally expect everyone to have might be getting outdated". That might have been clearer on my point, but what a terrible thread name.

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JWatts
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quote:
Originally posted by edgmatt:
That was my initial train of thought, and why I started this thread.

We consider reading a clock ubiquitous as you put it. I thought of it as "common knowledge". Like, *everyone* knows that George Washington was the first president, and *everyone* knows how to read a clock.

I thought, at first, that the lack of this skill is a bad sign, or a sign that he is not competent. He's a bit lazy, but intelligent. A bit of a nerd even. Why is not being able to read a clock a bad sign? Like I posted, we don't really need that skill anymore.

Not knowing that George Washington was the first president is a deficit of knowledge in a fairly obscure area. Not knowing how to read an analog clock when they are very common shows, at the very least, laziness and probably a noticeable lack of curiousity. At this point in time he's probably been exposed to analog clocks thousands of times. It doesn't take more than a few minutes to ask someone how they work and commit the facts to memory.

I think my biggest problem is that reading an analog clock isn't a dead skill.

Horse back riding would be a fair example of a dead skill. While readily available and of common knowledge, it's easy to avoid ever riding or needing to ride a horse for your entire life. It's impossible to live in a technological society productively without a significant awareness of the time and analog clocks still account for a significant majority of clocks. Furthermore, reading an analog clock is a trivial skill to learn. Learning to use a fork or pee in the toilet are both significantly harder to learn.

I hope the 14 year old in question figures out that society does indeed 'judge books by the covers' and that he will handicap his entire life by failing to learn basic skills.

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LinuxFreakus
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I for one am continually amazed by how little most people know about car repair these days. One of my co-workers recently took his car to the shop three times...to change a light bulb ... so not only did he have no idea how to do it himself, but the shop (granted it was only a jiffy lube) got it wrong twice as well.

When I tell people that I do my own car repair they act like I'm some sort of genius because I know how to replace brake pads/rotors or change my oil, or my radiator, or clean the intake manifold, replace a timing chain, vacuum hoses, spark plugs, ignition coils, etc, etc.

Sure it can be time consuming, but it is *very* easy and saves me *thousands* of dollars. Things like a complete engine/transmission rebuild I just don't have the time/equipment for, but those things don't happen very often.

[ March 17, 2011, 12:32 PM: Message edited by: LinuxFreakus ]

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Not knowing how to read an analog clock when they are very common shows,
Except that they're not very common anymore. I have to go out of my way to actually find one that's prominent (and working properly) anymore, and even then I have to consciously decide to use it over, say, my phone. I'm not at all surprised that they've reached the point of outright novelty among kids.
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edgmatt
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Yes, exactly my point.
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JWatts
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I've been in the ICU at the hospital for the last two weeks. Every clock in the unit was analog.

Since it's medically necessary to record the correct time and all of the clocks in the unit are analog, I do hope all of the 20 something nurses can read them correctly.

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LoverOfJoy
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Every classroom I've been in used analog clocks. Every doctor, dentist or other professional office I've been in displayed an analog clock. While not every store has a clock displayed, nearly every one that does display a public clock uses an analog one (the exceptions tend to be cases where something else is also displayed--like the rotating between time and temperature signs outside of banks).

I still see analog clocks in libraries, museums, and other public buildings. Granted, if you have a cell phone, you may not need to look at those clocks, but I would imagine at least in school, the teacher will frown at this kid pulling out his phone periodically to check the time.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
I've been in the ICU at the hospital for the last two weeks. Every clock in the unit was analog.
And the average kid sends how much time in the ICU? Even leaving aside the fact they the hospital probably has computers with digital clocks and the nurse's personal time pieces, you've already narrowed analog clocks to a specialty; that's sort of like saying "I hope that truck drivers know how to work a clutch instead of being dependent on automatic/electronic/cv transmissions"
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JWatts
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quote:
Originally posted by LoverOfJoy:
Granted, if you have a cell phone, you may not need to look at those clocks, but I would imagine at least in school, the teacher will frown at this kid pulling out his phone periodically to check the time.

Actually, in the public schools in this area the teachers will confiscate the phone until the end of the school year.
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LinuxFreakus
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Another skill which seems to be failing is orienteering. GPS seems to be taking over, but it is dangerous to set out in the wilderness without any backup. Sometimes you can't get a signal, the batteries could die, or the device might fail or get broken, yet many people set out and put 100% faith in a $40 cheap consumer level GPS unit.

Not to mention basic survival skills such as fire starting, knowledge of edible plants, construction of shelters, etc, etc.

[ March 17, 2011, 02:25 PM: Message edited by: LinuxFreakus ]

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