The Extinction of Skills

The Extinction of Skills

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Above image by Pexels from Pixabay

Throughout human history, if you wanted to go from Cosco to Trader Joes, you had to use your own two feet. Then about 5,500 years ago, in the plains of Kazakhstan, someone looked at a horse and wanted to grow up and be like John Wayne. Fast forward a few thousand years, and horseback riding dominated the landscape. Around 2000 B.C., we found some cultures using chariots which led to chariot races and the making of Ben Hur with Charlton Heston, but I am getting ahead of myself. 

In the 1700s, the steam engine and early locomotives entered the scene. Then in the late 1800s, Karl Benz in Germany created the first car. It took strength and skill to shift those early gears, but it would not rear up or try to buck you off. Then in 1939 came the automatic transmission courtesy of Cadillac and Oldsmobile. 

In the mid-1990s, CarMax reported that just under 30% of the cars they sold were stick-shift; today only 2.4% of the vehicles they sell are manual transmissions. Knowing how to drive a stick shift is a skill few Millennials (born 1981-1996), let alone any generation Zers (born 1997-2012), will have. 

Now we have cars on the road that can top 250 mph, but more significantly, many new cars today can practically drive themselves. My son and daughter-in-law bought a new Subaru with many features and abilities to practically drive itself. In 2021 Cadillac, BMW, Tesla, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and other manufacturers sold fully self-driving autos. 

I taught all four of my children how to drive, but 50 years from now, that may be a skill or a cherished right of passage that parents will no longer have. I expect the Millennials may be the last generation to experience the fear and joy of teaching their children to drive. 

Are the days of teaching our children to drive going to become extinct? Yes, they are. 

You can do this exercise with any technology, and this is what you will find. The natural progression of technology is convenience, accessibility, automation, and ease; from there, strength, skill, participation, and practice decrease.((Kim, Jay. Analog Christian, “Patience Instead Of Impatience” Intervarsity Press, 2022, pgs 67-82))

Consider the skill of handwriting for example. The oldest form of writing, called cuneiform script, appeared about 3,400 B.C. years ago. It looks like a wedge or square-shaped marks on clay tablets. 

Around 2700 B.C. writing on skins became the preferred choice. The oldest surviving skin parchment is kept in Berlin from the Egyptian 12th Dynasty at about 2000 B.C. 

Roughly 1600 B.C. China created a writing system that survives today but did not work well for introducing the printing press. Other cultures added to the development of writing, but the main players were the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. 

You might be surprised to learn that some copies of the Gutenberg Bible were printed on animal skins. In the 1400s, the German Abbott Johannes Trithemius wrote, “handwriting placed on skin will be able to endure a thousand years. But how long will printing last, which is dependent on paper? For if …it lasts for two hundred years that is a long time.“((Rennicks, Rich. “The History of Vellum and Parchment.” The New Antiquarian,, 19, April 2021, Animal skins were preferred for centuries because of their longevity, but using papyrus can be dated back to 2500 B.C.

In the 1400’s, the wooden printing press with ink was invented in Germany; by the 1700’s they began to use metal presses. Then in the 1800s power driven cylinders arrived, and they could produce thousands of sheets in an hour. From there, we invented color printing, lithography, and ink-jet printing in recent years. Voice to text has been around in rudimentary form since the 1950s, but in the 1980s and 1990s, due in part to faster computers and processing, programs reached a 90% accuracy rate. 

Medical transcription has been around for years, and now speech recognition is utilized to record dictation and stored electronically and printed as the need arises. The days of typewriters, electric typewriters (what I learned to type on in high school), word processors, and computer word processing are moving into history. 

Now, most homes have Alexa and Google Home, and voice-to-text is taking over the archaic method of typing words out on a keyboard. 

A more concise list concerning the history of writing would be:

  • Scratching on rocks
  • Marks on clay tablets
  • Animal skins
  • Parchment charcoal
  • Quills and ink
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Typing
  • Voice to text

Now, in the digital age, we can magically push a few buttons on our phone, speak, and groceries appear on our doorstep.

Some have called this phenomenon Technology’s De-Formational Trajectory and feel this will deeply subtract from who we are.

I am going to watch cross-fit videos to get physically fit.

I am going to watch Jacques Cousteau and learn scuba diving.

I am going to watch Conor McGregor and learn to fight.

It sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? I wonder how close the 2008 animation film WALL-E comes to what we, as humans made in God’s image, are becoming. 

In the 1940’s smoking was advertised as an enjoyable and healthy pastime. In 1946 Camel cigarettes paid to have surveys taken at medical conventions. “In order to skew the results, doctors were given free packets of cigarettes; then afterwards, they were questioned about either which type of cigarettes they had in their pockets or which brand they liked best.”((Staff Writers, “Evil Vintage Cigarette Ads Promising Better Health.” Healthcare Administration Degrees,, N.D., Now, 70 years later, it is the cell phone we find in everyone’s pocket and the question people need to ask is, “Is that any better than a pack of cigarettes?”

Cell phone use captured our culture. Jay Kim, the author of Analog Christian reported the average person unlocks their phone 150 times a day and at current consumption, the average person will have spent 5 years of their life on social media.((Kim, Jay. “Analog Christian.” Twin Lakes Church. Aptos, 31 July 2022, Aptos California. Sermon.)) Next time you eat out, look around and see how many are on their phones. 

Pew Research reported in 2019 that nearly 95% of teens in the U.S. have a cell phone, and 45% of them reported they are almost constantly on the Internet. Teens can and do use their phones to connect with other people, but the same research reports 54% of teen girls also use their phone to avoid social interaction.((Schaeffer, Katherine. “Most U.S. teens who use cellphones do it to pass time, connect with others, learn new things.” Pew Research Center, 23, August 2019. 

People are being formed by the digital age, a world of digital escape. It’s not the apps we use but how they are using us. We are not the customers, but in significant ways, we are the products. “Each search and click provides valuable data to companies constantly searching for ways to effectively commodify our attention and, more slyly, or addiction.”((Kim, Jay. “Introduction.” Analog Christian, Intervarsity Press, 2022, p.8))

Addict comes from a Greek legal term to describe someone who is a slave to another. The root word addict comes from the Latin word addictus, which means to sacrifice, sell out, betray or abandon. In Roman law, an addiction was a person that became enslaved through a court ruling.

Twenty years ago, looking out over the horizon, cell phones were the mushroom cloud looming overhead; now, they are a clear and present danger. Cell phone addiction has permeated our culture, and tech has made them nearly indispensable from our current daily affairs. Big tech uses them to sell us products, track our interests, and our locations. 

We used to wait in line at the DMV, the grocery store, and the doctor’s office with nothing to do; we were bored, and now, we are on our phones checking Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Youtube, Amazon, or Instagram instead of observing the world around us. 

This is a problem not only for the loss of a skill (being observant) but the loss of human interaction. “Before the smartphone, most of our waking hours were spent engaging the world around us, tenuously navigating our connection to real people, places, and things, in real-time. But in the age of the smartphone, at even the slightest hint of discomfort, awkwardness, or boredom, we shift our focus downward and inward, away from the world and toward the screen.”((Kim, Jay. “Love Instead of Self-Centric Despair.” Analog Christian, Intervarsity Press, 2022, p.16)) 

The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a person and a story, and even a story must be about a person. – G.K. Chesterton

I have been using Youtube for years, uploading math videos and other lessons for my students. So my thinking has been since they are on it anyway, why not use it? In 2020 the Pew Research center reported, “YouTube has emerged as a key platform for both younger and older kids. Fully 89% of parents of a child age 5 to 11 say their child watches videos on YouTube.”1 I do ask myself the question if I am adding to the problem, but what students watch is totally out of my control unless they are in my classroom. 

I don’t have it all figured out, but I have learned a few things. 

  • Our imagination is often sparked by boredom, and cell phones subtract from that opportunity. 
  • We live in a distracted culture and rely on cell phones to entertain and feed our addictions. 
  • You can’t automate spiritual growth. 

Erwin McManus, in his book, The Last Arrow, encourages us not to squander our time and to “Be ready when you get there. Don’t make the mistake of living your life waiting for good things to happen, make good things happen.”2 This can’t be done unless we begin to shave away time that is wasted. 

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Without human interaction, how can you cultivate any of those fruits? 

One person committed to a cause is far more effective than a thousand who are merely interested. – William E. Brown

Don’t just be merely interested in what I have written if it resonates with you. Make the necessary changes to make a difference not only in your life but in the lives of those around you. 

John Stonestreet co-wrote Restoring All Things and made a list of things to consider when wanting to find out how to make a difference in your world. 

  1. What is good in our culture that we can promote, protect, and celebrate?
  2. What is missing in our culture that we can creatively contribute?
  3. What is evil in our culture that we can stop?
  4. What is broken in our culture that we can restore?((Smith, Warren. Stonestreet, John. “Aim Small, Miss Small.” Restoring All Things, Baker Books, 2015, p.197))

Since I started researching this piece, I have done a few things to help me step away from my phone. First, I turned off all my notifications except incoming text sounds and phone calls. Second, I don’t reach for my phone first thing in the morning. Now I shower, change, make coffee, and read before looking at my phone. Third I don’t always take my phone with me if I go out. If I run to the store or visit a friend, I will leave my cell phone. The shopping list is back to paper and pencil, a handy skill generation Z may not even think of if they lose their phone. 

In Matthew 28:18-20, we find, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

Many make a mistake in reading this passage that the command is “Go,” but that is not the command. The word go is better translated “as you go” or “wherever you go.” The only command in those verses is “make disciples of all nations.”3

Keep in mind we can’t do everything; that is not what I am suggesting. How silly it would be for someone to play the part of both Romeo and Juliet. Instead, consider the words again from the movie The Patriot, aim small, and miss small. What can you do, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that would make a difference in not only your life but in the life of another? 

My first suggestion is to put your phone down and look at the world around you and the people around you. Look at what you love doing, or ask yourself, “What makes me come alive?” In the process of going deep, you can also ask yourself, “What breaks my heart?”4 

When you can answer those questions and pursue the answer or solution as a Christian, you will make a difference that could last for an eternity. 

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The Extinction of Skills by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  1. Auxier, Brooke. Anderson Monica. Perrin, Andrew. Turner, Erica. Parenting Children in the Age of Screens, Pew Research Center, 28, July 2020, []
  2. McManus, Erwin. “Battle Ready.” The Last Arrow, Waterbrook, 2017, p.194 []
  3. Smith, Warren. Stonestreet, John. “Aim Small, Miss Small.” Restoring All Things, Baker Books, 2015, p.198 []
  4. Smith, Warren. Stonestreet, John. “Aim Small, Miss Small.” Restoring All Things, Baker Books, 2015, p.199 []

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