My mommy says I'm special…

The internet brings knowledge to us in a way that’s almost unfathomable. When I need to do something, a step by step webpage, if not a video, is just a Google away. The giant knowledge net that is Wikipedia is a few mouse clicks from my desktop. With a smartphone, these resources can be accessed nearly anywhere.

This is making every one of us a potential generalist in every subject.

In the past age being a generalist was something to brag about. Knowing a lot about a variety of subjects made you useful. You would know enough to discourse on a variety of subjects, and fix potential problems in most areas, whatever they might be. If deeper knowledge was required, further research could be done, or a specialist hired. Specialists were scarce because so few were needed.

In the past, I have had people refer to me as “The Fount of Useless Knowledge”. If you wanted to know obscure facts about Heinlein novels, Celtic legends, the musical instruments of Asia, or common physical greetings used among Roman Legionnaires, I was the man to ask. Still am, in fact, but no longer because I have everything packed in my head. (Well, all the above knowledge is still packed in my head. Along with lots more useless stuff.)

John Graham-Cumming wrote about TF-IDF here, and summed it up nicely. I used to sum this up by telling people I can “think the way the search engine thinks”. It makes being a generalist entirely too easy. With it, and my basic knowledge of regular expressions, I can find things on the internet rather quickly. My built in habit of voracious reading (and thus assimilation of fantastically obtuse data points) still makes me a mildly interesting conversationalist (and in my opinion enhances my worldview, but that’s another article) but is no longer a selling point of me as an employee.

Much of the younger generation will have a fundamental grasp of TF-IDF, and it is therefore my belief that specialist are going to be the hottest commodity in the workforce in the coming years. People who know how to do very particular things, do them well, and have practiced them so they can do them in their sleep. We have numerous specialist we call upon already, but the number is going to go up.

In some ways, I believe a change to our education system is in order. A general knowledge is delivered of many topics by our K-12 system, but our higher learning system is entirely out of whack. Two year colleges, which offer specialized learning in a focused area, are considered inferior to a Bachelor’s degree, which offers general learning in a field. We’ve seen this trend reversing already. I would be unsurprised if apprenticeship had made a resounding comeback within 50 years.

Just something to ponder. When you’re looking to learn, remember to be special. I’m going to go rewire the house. Don’t worry, I looked it up on eHow.


~ by Benjamin Kenneally on February 16, 2010.

One Response to “My mommy says I'm special…”

  1. I see my crackberry as my auxiliary brain where I can find the stuff I don’t want to have to remember. This leaves me a lot more “processing” power in my head.

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