My latest Greenville News column.  Step away from the phone and learn something people!

Step away from the phone and learn something useful
Well it’s school-time again, and all over the land the kids are back at it. Little ones are surrounded by the non-toxic but highly addictive smell of crayons and the wonderful colors and textures of construction paper. The simple delight of a backpack, the joy of snack time with new friends, these are novelties sufficient to send the little ones into pediatric rapture. Or tearful fits. Either way, they’re learning useful things like shapes, numbers, the alphabet and how to get away with stuff when the teacher is looking the other way.
But even as the little ones are embarking on the long journey of education, I have a request for those in higher grades, all the way past college. You, also, should continue to learn useful things. And I don’t mean on electronic devices.
I say that because any visitor from another world would reasonably wonder about the strange relationship we have with our smart-phones, lap-tops and tablets. Are constant selfies evidence that humans worship themselves? Are the devices connected to some powerful leader who watches and guides us? (If an alien abducted humans to figure this out, would the humans look up from their phones and notice? Or simply post it to their Snapchat story?)
It seems to me that a lot of young people have decided that they needn’t actually know anything; they can just pull out their minor deity phone and ask it questions in a crisis. But here’s a dark secret: in many parts of America and the world, there isn’t a connection to the great Web. Furthermore, the Internet might not always be there! Don’t freak out, but our electronics can be compromised by solar flares. Or by Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons used by terrorists or other countries. Furthermore, in times of disaster our phone networks and the Internet could become hopelessly overwhelmed. At that point, you can’t look up: ‘what to do if Internet isn’t working,’ as you’ll be unable to use said Internet.
So dear young people, learn things that are practical and helpful. One of my children was proud to learn some basic plumbing on a mission trip. One cooks well. Another is in EMT school while going to college and is proud to know CPR and how to use a defibrillator. Still another prides himself on learning to pick locks and start fires while camping. (You never know.)
There are so many things I should have learned when I was younger! For instance, every summer my-weed eater consistently dies when I need it the most. Why didn’t I ask my grandfather or dad to teach me how to work on 2-cycle engines? I suppose I was too busy being a vacuous teenager who thought he knew everything. Like pretty much every teenager ever.
So even as you brilliant students are knocking out degrees and certificates in what are often highly specific areas of education, I’d suggest you all keep adding new skills. Learn first aid or become a first responder so you can help the injured who cross your path. Learn simple wiring, learn woodwork, learn how to fight a fire, build a shelter, find your way in the woods with a compass or raise an animal for meat.
Learn to operate a boat, rescue someone from water, grow your own vegetables, hunt, fish, fight off an attacker, cook a meal, use a generator, drive a piece of heavy equipment, dig a hole, cut down a tree or whatever other practical skill that interests you and is anchored in the unrelenting bounds of Internet-free reality. The place where food doesn’t just appear because you order it online, and help doesn’t always come just because you call for it.
The thing is, there are untold numbers of people, often older men and women, who would love to share their knowledge and experience with a new generation. Seek them out, talk to them and learn. You may not get a diploma or certificate, but you’ll never be sorry you have it. And you’ll always treasure your new knowledge.
Then one day, when your phone is broken and you have to cook a fish you caught to feed the wounded hiker you found and aided in the woods where you were wiring your cabin, I promise you’ll thank me.
Even if you can’t e-mail me to say it.

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