At 48, I finally understand why older people complained about the declining skillfulness of the younger generations.
That means I also understand, frustratingly, that what I’m about to write will be dismissed as merely and only a “cranky old man yelling at the clouds.”
Older people never have a point, you see. They’re dumb. Not only are they dumb, but their only motivation in the whole wide world is to hate young people. Just because they’re like, jealous and stuff?
I can’t change that. If you, reader, are able to get past that you may find something interesting below. If not, kindly exit the essay and tell all your friends about the stupid old dude you like, subscribed to for some reason you don’t, like, even remember?
We, all of us in the West, are being trained to believe that the most basic tasks are impossible for us. We need automation. We need computerized systems to perform very mundane jobs in the physical world.
And we eat this up. We love it. We adore being pampered with servos and digital timers that do things like open car windows and other things that used to be considered easy enough for human fingers.
Cars. Cars is where this is showing up noticeably.
We adult drivers are regressing. Oh yes, I know—you want to say “it’s just the opposite; we’re progressing with technology!”
No, we’re not. We’re losing basic skills in a way that makes us helpless to operate machines that are not highly and precariously automated. Psychologically, this also trains us to think of ourselves as incapable of things we never would have categorized as “hard” before recent times. I suspect this has knock-on effects in other domains of our lives.
When I was a teenager, I took my driver’s license test on a 5-speed 1987 Chevy Camaro. That’s right. I drove a manual shift with a clutch on the day I had to prove I deserved a license.
Big scary, huh!?
No. It was normal. Because clutches were normal. Shifting gears was normal.
But you “can’t” do that, right? It’s too hard, isn’t it?
Nonsense, and stop it.
Before the mid 20th century, every single driver in the world had to use a clutch and shift her own gears. Mirabile dictu, they somehow managed. Yes! If you take a look at old archival footage, you can confirm that automobiles in the millions were all over American roads, even though none of them had automatic transmissions.
Boy, those people in the old days were really something, huh?
It’s so much worse than that, too.
I just watched a commercial from Ford. A 30-something woman was the star of the commercial, sitting in the driver’s seat. Surprisingly, she was white, which I didn’t think was allowed in ads anymore.
Anyway, she was demonstrating Ford’s parallel-parking feature. Yes. Today, cars will parallel park for you. Because it’s sooooooo hard lol!
No, it isn’t. It’s that you aren’t good enough. And you’re not good enough only because you’ve told yourself that you can’t do it, and used that as an excuse never to practice parallel parking.
That’s the truth. Nine times out of 10 tries, I can parallel park in reverse perfectly on the first try. I’m not an especially physically skilled man, and I’m just an ordinary driver like everyone else.
From the time I got my driver’s license, the skills of American drivers have devolved to a surprising low. With each new high-tech system to take over ordinary tasks, we voluntarily lower ourselves and our skill level until we can no longer do basic driving tasks without computer assistance.
Today we have:
-automatic parallel parking
-lane-keeping cars that jerk the steering wheel back if you drift on the road
-Backup cameras on every car of every size and style, whether they’re needed or not. This has resulted in a generation of drivers who have no instinct to actually turn their head and use their direct visual senses when reversing a two-ton machine
-You cannot get a standard shift car for love nor money in America. Those of us who want them are out of luck, because 90 percent of putative adults now believe “that’s too hard.”
Stupid old man Josh! Nobody needs to do any of those things lol anymore lol you just hate that you’re not young lol lmao.
A loyal Disaffected audience member told a story in our Discord recently (sign up as a paid subscriber to this Substack for access).
She drove her car to a Jiffy Lube (an oil change franchise in the states) for a fluid change. She did not get her oil or fluid change.
Of the six young men working that day, not a single one of them had ever operated a manual shift. None of these young men knew how to work a clutch.
Since their company rules required an employee, never the driver, to drive the car into the bay, they told her to leave. She was not allowed to drive it in, and they couldn’t operate her car, so no oil change.
In aviation pilots work to maintain what are called “stick skills”. These are your skills to manually fly a plane without automation. A pilot has to control the thrust, flap settings, pitch and climb, airspeed, all of it.
Modern commercial jets are so highly automated that the industry recognizes that pilots’ stick skills have been declining. This means that, faced with an emergency or a loss of automation, today’s pilots on average have less muscle memory for manually flying an aircraft.
This has indeed led to fatal accidents.
Convenience is nice. But the level of convenience we expect from machines today is excessive. It’s actually unbelievable luxury.
And it has a price. You are a worse driver today than you would have been 20 years ago.
Where else have we let our “stick skills” decline?
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Mathematics, for one. I make myself balance my checkbook using mental arithmetic. I verify it later, since a mistake would be a problem, but the first pass is in my head, not on the spreadsheet or using a calculator. I want those skills to stay sharp.
Josh, you have to understand that human intelligence travels in an arc. A baby knows nothing but steadily progresses in knowledge as the months, then years go. Just going by my observations, I'd say this arc peaks at the age of 15 or 16. In fact, if you ask somebody of that age they will readily tell you that they know everything. Those who are more circumspect will backtrack from that claim but will add that at least they sure know a lot more than you do. Then something happens. As they continue into their 20s their intelligence level begins to decline. By the time they are in their 40s they are as dumb as we are. Fortunately for the world, the next generation has arrived by then to set us all straight.