Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Age of the Dilletante

Sometimes on the intarweb you find the idea that our time is the age of the amateur, like the amateur scientist of the 16th to 19th century; at that time noblemen with to much money and to much time lingered into science and did a lot of important discoveries, today people with to much time can have access to the latest discoveries, to a lot of knowledge, can work on new technologies and do a lot of armchair science. An amazing amount of technological ideas is generated by this new class of idling intellectuals, bored technicians, hobby artists and armchair scientists. Technology and science have been democratized, everybody has access to anything and can become anything they want. Without to much effort I could become an underwater archaeologist, a backyard rocketist or a closet electronicist (I made that word up...).

This is one side of the story. My feeling is that there is another side... Life, work, science, technology have become so complex that nobody can be a specialist anymore. Everybody is an amateur, even the people who are doing stuff professionally. Be it at university or in industry, it looks like nobody has a real clue about what they are doing, everybody is a dilletante. This might be a sign of a lot of change happening, this might be a sign of life growing to complex for anybody to grasp. Nobody has a plan, nobody really knows what is going on. The people who are good on their job have an idea on how stuff works, a vague feeling what happens under certain circumstances. The bad ones just don't have a clue. But nobody is able to tell exactly what will happen.

The age where you had masters of a craft who really knew their tasks, who knew what will happen, has long gone by. Work, Life, Technology and Society have grown so complex that people have yet to keep up with it. The big bosses do not really know how to run a company, the politicians do not really know how to run the country, the technicians do not really know how their stuff works,... Nobody can be certain about anything anymore, everybody is just improvising.

This is the 21st century. Everybody is equally lost...