In 1712, nobody would have looked at you funny if your business card read: “Surgeon, Apothecary, Investigator of the Unknown. Also, Shoemaker.”
There are many reasons why, in 2012, that’s no longer the case. Among them, the increasing specialization driven by the rise of the great universities and the classification of disciplines. Specialization has certain obvious benefits – it makes the transfer of knowledge and its application in targeted problem-solving much more efficient. It does for knowledge what Henry Ford did for the automobile, streamlining the production of each component by limiting the number of people involved.
The trouble with hyperspecialization is that the automobile never gets assembled. Experts remain siloed off in their disciplines, speaking in code with their peers, engaging in talmudic debates on the finer points of footnotes to footnotes. Universities have tried to address this problem in recent years with interdisciplinary specializations, but their underlying architecture often inhibits free and open collaboration.
The question is pretty much asked and answered. I’m not sure that it is an institutional consequence as much as a consequence of our business culture ( everything is for sale in terms of goods and services) that so few people do not learn some basic skills outside their specialty – like how to change a tire, how to cook a fair variety of meals, how to sew a button on a shirt, how to change the oil, how to change your AC filter, how to use a compass, enough survival skills to keep you alive for a few days in extreme cold or heat and a few dozen other things that do not just make one less dependent on the special skills of others, but save money. People say they want a simpler life, but like cutting the national budget when it gets down to specifics they find it difficult to name a technology or modern convenience they would do without. Jonathon Keats is the philosopher who has fixated on the need for curious amateurs. There is a video at the link. He is pretty eccentric, but in that mash-up of big thoughts on modern culture are a few things worth pondering.
Making More Room in Queens for Visiting Fans of Satchmo (Louis Armstrong). His rather small house is a national historic site. It can only handle about ten visitor’s at a time so the City University of New York is going to build a visitors center across the street.
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Summertime
Newton’s Cenotaph . Before you read the history behind the illustration try to guess what century it was designed.
Newton’s Cenotaph larger.
“Sublime spirit! Vast and profound genius! Divine being! Accept the homage of my weak talents… Oh, Newton!” With these words, French architect and designer Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728–99) dedicated his design for an imaginary cenotaph (empty tomb) in honor of the English physicist Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Like many intellectuals of his day, Boullée was fascinated by Newtonian physics. His design illustrates perfectly the general characteristics of his work and that of the architecture of the end of the 18th century: large simple masses free from any superfluous decoration, and buildings whose forms express their purpose.
Fellow bloggers who wrestle with their writing or conversation skills will find this video encouraging. As a bonus it is also a great example of animation and typographic design. Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography – Language
Since it is a long weekend for many of us, a semi-long read, Jonathan Foltz on The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-Garde #Film of the 1920s