# Are we losing it?I read once that scientists are puzzled by some of the colors used in medieval stained-glass windows. It seems that they can't figure out how the blue was created. Apparently,...

Are we losing it?

I read once that scientists are puzzled by some of the colors used in medieval stained-glass windows. It seems that they can't figure out how the blue was created. Apparently, nobody ever wrote down the formula for how to make blue glass way back then. Ever wonder how many other "technologies" we've lost over time?

Yesterday, the clock in my classroom stopped working. I had a student put a new battery in it and reset the time. She couldn't do it. Oh, installing the battery was not the problem. She didn't know how to tell time on an old-fashioned clock with hands! And she's a high school junior!

Should we be concerned that young people don't know how to read a clock?

What skills do you think future scientists will scratch their heads over trying to figure out how we accomplished them?

enotechris | Certified Educator

Clockfaces will go the way of the sundial!  I think I was the last generation to learn how to use a slide rule in high school.  Is it useful to know?  Yes, it can be.  It definitely gave me a better appreciation of how numbers "work" than if I had punched in numbers on a calculator. Similarly, I learned how to use a sextant to find position, so when the GPS and everything else dependent on electricity on the boat failed, I'd have a backup.  In so learning, I got a deeper appreciation of how astronomers, cartographers, and navigators did their work, but this is mostly historical perspective, and may be useful if we ever lose our more advanced devices.  So something's definitely lost.  But something's definitely gained as well -- without having to learn some arcane skill, one's mind is freer to focus and operate on a higher level.  So what if you can't use a slide rule?  Maybe having the machine do basic calculations for you will free you to discover a new branch of mathematics.  I have a very old math book (late 1700's) which works students in problems of "extended math" -- problems about how to convert from Massachusetts Pine Tree Shillings to some other colonial currency -- using the old English monetary system.  It also covers how to add and subtract pints and gills into fractions of hogsheads.  All very tedious calculations, but necessary in the day.  We don't do it anymore, because we don't need to.  Certainly it was good mental exercise, but that same mind, cranking through arcane money and measure could, in a modern context,  be working on building a sustainable habitat on the Moon. Certainly cultural skills over time are forgotten (How did they build Stonehenge?!?) but are forgotten not because of cultural decline, but hopefully because of advancement!  Humans aren't smarter or stupider on average than we were 50,000 years ago; it's just the skill sets have changed. Let's hope skill sets continue to evolve over time.  And the forgotten skills?  As our current day skills advance, we'll eventually rediscover the ancient ones.  I don't know about the blue glass, but I know it was only with the advent of the computer that many of the mysteries of Stonehenge were solved (how it was built and what it was used for come to mind.)  Far in the future, I wonder if our descendants, to their amazement, will discover humanity was confined to a single planet near an average star because we hadn't figured out how to travel in space, but we were somehow able to get habitats built on the Moon!

dbello | Certified Educator
Are we losing it?

I read once that scientists are puzzled by some of the colors used in medieval stained-glass windows. It seems that they can't figure out how the blue was created. Apparently, nobody ever wrote down the formula for how to make blue glass way back then. Ever wonder how many other "technologies" we've lost over time?

Yesterday, the clock in my classroom stopped working. I had a student put a new battery in it and reset the time. She couldn't do it. Oh, installing the battery was not the problem. She didn't know how to tell time on an old-fashioned clock with hands! And she's a high school junior!

Should we be concerned that young people don't know how to read a clock?

What skills do you think future scientists will scratch their heads over trying to figure out how we accomplished them?

I sure hope not !!!! I do believe that the advancement of humanity is necessary for our survival. What does trouble me times is that I think that some people act as if the past has lost relevance, and as a result becomes meaningless to their present reality. I understand your clock example because I had a similar experience with a student. Since my life's work is history and archaeology I am of the school of thought that the past holds the key to our present and our future. Although humanity has made great achievements, it has also made errors beyond belief. If humanity loses its past regardless of its one time genius or disaster,deny,ignore, or forget the relevance of the experience, there is the possibility that there might come a time we won't even be able to 'tell time'...something to think about.

Jen Sambdman | Certified Educator

See, and I am from that odd era where everything took off super fast. I was all about tapes when I was a kid, CDs as a teenager and then downloading music and i-pods in college. I consider myself lucky to be involved in both the archaic world of betamax to VHS(which they have officially shipped the last shipment of VHS tapes the week of New Years so that technology is now "dead"...sad.) and now we have the blu-ray. Technology will always change and fluctuate, but it is important that these kids understand some of the basic functions. I do know how to fill an oil-filled lamp and light it because my grandma taught me so if there was a power outage, and I had no batteries, I know I would have light, but would my students be able to figure it out?

Even though the technology changes, we still need to have at least a basic understanding of the workings of it's predecessors. The Y2K scare was a PERFECT example. You never know what could happen and it is always nice to have a plan Q when plans A-P aren't an option because power is out. We are very dependant on technology and that could end up being a downfall if we are not careful.

engtchr5 | Certified Educator

I don't particularly mourn the passing on of some technologies; VHS tapes in particular. I remember how grainy and warped they could become with age, and how the picture presented was never very high-quality, even near the end of the VCR era.

However, there are some skills that we should continue teaching despite the limited time they seem to have left. For instance, it will always be practical to know how to build a fire, even though we have every technology in the world for heat and light. Likewise, it is practical to know how to read a magnetic compass and map for the inevitable "down time" that GPS and other technologies will inevitably face. If literature has taught us anything, it's not to be totally reliant upon the mechanical or digital.

morrol | Certified Educator

Linda, I have also been astonished by several of my high school students who are unable to read a clock face. I did an entire mini lesson to teach them how to do it.

Also, because of the ubiquity of email, I had to teach a student applying for college how to mail a letter. When I showed him the address of the university to which he was applying, he proceeded to write out the address in a single line across the entirety of the envelope. He had never sent a piece of mail before that day.

I don't necessarily think this is horrible though. Like Scott said, letter sending is now "primitive", and as long as students are still telling time somehow, and communicating somehow, we haven't lost our humanity.

kwoo1213 | Certified Educator

I think lots of valuable and interesting skills have been replaced by technology, which is sad to me.  Although there is so much I love about technological advances, it is sad to see some "old" things go by the wayside.  So much technology has also contributed to a lazier society, in my opinion.

linda-allen | Certified Educator

I just finished reading McCarthy's "The Road." How would today's teenagers cope--could they cope--with the loss of the technologies we take for granted, even as basic as indoor plumbing. Would they that they could make a lamp out of rag stuffed inside an oil-filled bottle?

novusordoseclorum | Student

Because "they" are hidden behind a facade of politicians, lobbyist and their media coverage by their companies. Would you openly step up and announce your plans? No, ofcourse not. And if they would censor those things on the internet, people will notice, and draw their conclusions out of that. What I said in post 12 was merely a hypothesis to arouse some thought on this subject.

frizzyperm | Student

Today's educational system provides society with dumb people, who are just smart enough to operate a machine and to damn stupid to do some critical thinking. Kids spent time watching stupid TV Shows that brainwash them into a mindless mold of good consumers and a reliable workforce for the corporate elite. The United Nations will achieve a one world government and all the working slaves will be chipped. This chip will contain all personal data and act as a creditcard. So when you step out of line, they will just shut down your chip and you will not be able to buy anything or go anywhere. Bush senior sayd it and also Henry A. Kissinger mentioned this movement. The coming of a New World Order!

Check this column by Kissinger and you will see what their plans for the U.S. and the rest of the world are. http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/01/12/opinion/edkissinger.php

You forgot about "the alien Lizards who kidnapped Elvis." :-)

Whenever I hear these scare stories about 'global conspiracies' and ultra-secret plans to rule the world, I always ask two questions...

1) Who are 'They'? (i.e. from your post...  they will just shut down your chip)

and

2) If there is an ultra-secret, all powerful, global conspiracy, why are 'they' letting you (and others like you) blab about it all over the internet?

novusordoseclorum | Student

Today's educational system provides society with dumb people, who are just smart enough to operate a machine and to damn stupid to do some critical thinking. Kids spent time watching stupid TV Shows that brainwash them into a mindless mold of good consumers and a reliable workforce for the corporate elite. The United Nations will achieve a one world government and all the working slaves will be chipped. This chip will contain all personal data and act as a creditcard. So when you step out of line, they will just shut down your chip and you will not be able to buy anything or go anywhere. Bush senior sayd it and also Henry A. Kissinger mentioned this movement. The coming of a New World Order!

Check this column by Kissinger and you will see what their plans for the U.S. and the rest of the world are. http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/01/12/opinion/edkissinger.php

frizzyperm | Student

I think we learn the skills we need at the time.

Before cars, people knew all the skills that involved horses and horse ownership, we generally don't now. The car replaced the horse and horse-skills were dropped. We now have car skills.

Who mourns women's domestic drudgery that was replaced by 'white box' appliances? Washing clothes by hand, laying fires in the grate, scrubbing floors on hands and knees, baking bread, boiling nappies etc. These are all 'old' skills.

Boys nowadays don't learn how to weild an axe while chopping wood for the fire.

Turning a field with a horse and plough is now only kept alive by a tiny handful of enthusiasts but 100 years ago it was perhaps the most central activity to our survival.

Girls can't so.

Playing musical instruments badly is replaced by recorded music of professionals.

and so on.

We should not romanticise 'the old ways' too much. They were hard and back-breaking. (eg thank god the skills of the country sawdoctor are now behind us). It would feel 'wrong' if the pen or the paperbook pass into history, but other 'standard' methods of writing (stone tablets, hand-written books, slate-and-chalk, papyrus) have been and gone. Perhaps our grandchildren will get all nostalgic and regretful at the passing on the E-book.

Tempus Fugit. Go with it.

frizzyperm | Student

Clocks, books, maps, steering wheels, letters, newspapers etc. Technology will gradually replace lots and lots of human things with gizmos and gadjets. GPS will do away with papermaps and the ability to understand them. I think that will be a tragic loss... mainly because I adore maps and I can 'read' them for pleasure. For the same nostalgic reasons, I don't want paper books to stop, even though I know that paper is not the important thing about books. We don't like change after we reach a certain age but change will come, ever faster and faster, like it or not.

Will technology ever completely replace reading I wonder? Most people don't read much and teenage boys don't read at all. Is reading a dying art?

frizzyperm | Student

We may not know which dyes they used in medieval times to stain windows, but we can make all possible shades of blue stained glass, so we haven't lost a technology, merely forgotten a more primitive method of creating blue dyes. Blue was a difficult colour to make. It was really expensive and rare because there weren't many things that gave blue dye. I read somewhere that Lapis lazuli was the most desirable source of blue paint, I don't know if they used it in glass, but it was really rare and incredibly expensive. Very pretty though.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapis_lazuli

With regards to your student who can't read an analogue clock, I think that reflects on her more than a new social trend. She doesn't sound too weighed down by the burdens of genius. But I suppose it is possible that the clockface may go the way of the sundial.