Shedding Skills

I wonder how many skills, recipes, and processes common in the 1600s have long since been lost to modern society? The same question applies to more recent timelines: the 1700s and 1800s and early, mid, and late 1900s; even since the beginning of the first quarter of the twenty-first century? Incidentally, by recipes I do not mean instructions for making a cake or a casserole, though those guidelines are encompassed by my query. When I contemplate how people in the seventeenth century must have lived, their stamina and their ingenuity amaze me. Without the aid of modern equipment and technology, they were able to mine for lead and tin. They must have had methods of developing reliable sources of water. They preserved food without the benefit of modern canning equipment. Artistic painters, or the people who supplied the materials used in their work, knew how to create paint that would stand up to the ravages of wide variations in temperature and humidity and that could survive exposure to sunlight and soot from candles and fires for heating the places where they lived and worked. Of course many of the recipes and processes no longer in common use have been memorialized of late on the internet, so we assume they have not been “lost.”

Progress, unfortunately, is not necessarily additive.

But have we truly preserved them? If, God forbid, the internet were utterly destroyed to the point of being irretrievably unusable, how many among us would be able to resurrect the lost information? I suspect modern humans have, over time, lost enormous volumes of knowledge and skills, much of which we do not even know we once knew of or could master. Progress, unfortunately, is not necessarily additive; it tends to replace the old with the new, leaving what was to wither and die. Who among the living, today, could successfully orchestrate the duplication of the great pyramids of Egypt without using any modern tools or processes? The skills required for such a feat probably no longer exist; even if they did, who could translate those skills into an identical outcome?

I have no particular reason for writing about this subject today; it just happens to be a topic about which I have been curious for many years. And my curiosity and back-of-mind concern remains.


My bizarre dream, the one in which I was immersed when I awoke this morning, is too complex and convoluted for me to attempt to document here. But it worries me a little; somehow, my subconscious seems to have fractured into sharp pieces. I am concerned that those fragments might slice into my consciousness. I suspect that mental bloodletting serves as evidence of either madness or desire or fear blossoming into panic. Okay, that last sentence could be a smidge over-dramatic.


My mornings are too short. I wake later than I want. I think and write slower than I would like. Once again, I threaten myself with setting an alarm clock if this tendency to stay in bed too long lingers. As for the viscous thought processes, I am not sure how to cure that affliction. Perhaps I could find a safe stand-in for amphetamines; something that would unlock my capacity to think clearly at high speed? I do not know what that alternative could be, though. I may investigate and act accordingly. But in the meantime I will launch into another cold, clear Friday morning.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Shedding Skills

  1. Would love to receive the ebook, Clay. Thanks!

  2. jayc1ay says:

    If you want some answers try reading Fernand Braudel´s “The Structures of Everyday Line, Civilizations and Capitalism, 15th – 18th Century. I can send you an ebook. But I got the hardcopy for easier scanning and better illustrations,

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