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Sunday, July 13, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 9/9/2008

Once-valuable skills are now useless

The other day, while waiting in line to use the self-checkout scanner at a grocery store, I wondered what we ever did without scanners.

Of course, I knew the answer right away. As a teenager, I learned to operate old-fashioned, pre-electronic cash registers for grocery and drug stores. They trained us clerks pretty well, too: One grocery even had half-cent keys. Let's see, two cans for 33 cents; why, that's 16 1/2 cents for one (those half cents added to savings after a while).

But that's a useless skill anymore.

The same goes for lots of other now-unnecessary skills, abilities, and aptitudes those of us middle-aged and older learned many years ago. Such things as how to use a slide rule, how to do complex math calculations by hand, and how to repair car engines have been rendered obsolete by technology and changing times.

It makes me wonder if the stuff people learn nowadays could someday be useless, too. Text messaging? Video games? Driving a car?

The old-fashioned way to tally purchases: a cash register.
The old-fashioned way to tally purchases: a cash register.
AP Enlarge

I'm sure many others like me worked their way through college, or at least worked part-time while going to school. In my case, I learned how to operate a cord-and-jack switchboard (I believe I could still do it by instinct, without even thinking about it).

I also learned how to operate farm tractors, conveyors, and hay balers and how to operate industrial-size floor polishers.

All of those skills or abilities were very useful at the time but are wasted knowledge now.

It also doesn't matter how much anyone remembers about a 1950 Ford or 1972 Pontiac engine. Those days of simplicity are gone.

Slide rules quickly disappeared when cheap hand-held calculators came on the market.

I wonder why so many of us wasted brain cells on such worthless efforts as memorizing all 271 words of the Gettysburg Address, the names of all 206 bones in the human body, or the value of pi extended out to 10 decimal points. Surely those brain cells could have been put to better use.

Long before computers, lots of us learned to type on manual typewriters and also learned to make corrections the hard way - with correction paper or tape and fluid. Typing remains a useful skill but the fixes are much easier.

There are many old skills and techniques I'm not eager to use ever again: spit-shining shoes and boots, churning butter, skinning a squirrel. I have no desire to do a back flip ever again - I'll leave that to stock-car driver Carl Edwards and other younger folk who have no fear of broken bones.



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