The right skills for a crisis
I’ve been re-reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, and my brain is reeling with spaceships, robots, time travel and towels. But one passage I read is more a real-world warning than it is science fiction. Arthur Dent, the protagonist, is stranded on a remote and primitive planet. Nothing in his training has prepared him for a world that’s this simpleminded, and despite his supposed learning and skills, he feels useless. Instead of doing what most useless people do — going into national politics — he opens a sandwich shop. He’s a survivor and he’s found his calling.
I share Arthur’s puzzlement. What would I have to offer, if our world were suddenly to stop working the way it does now? I’ve spent my life working with computers. Computers require electricity; electricity requires infrastructure; infrastructure requires civilization. What would I do if civilization took a tumble and we all lived like animals? It could happen. My skills wouldn’t hold up in a world where hog rendering and fire building are the most important tickets to success and dinner. I’m afraid I’d be somewhat useless in a world ruled by the first guy who could figure out how to roast a chipmunk in a trashcan. Well, I’m going to prepare for that eventuality, just in case our elected officials decide to jump over the fiscal cliff and take us with them. I’m going to learn a fall-back skill that will still be valuable even as civilization goes to heck in a go-cart.
So, it’s decided: I’m going to learn how to hollow out tree stumps and turn them into toilets. Everyone has to go, eventually. I could put up a privacy screen, charge one roasted chipmunk per family, and be in business, so to speak. And I could learn to make soap. After you’ve spent a pleasant afternoon visit- ing the “little tree stump,” you’re not going to want to return to your makeshift hut with dirty hands. So, each family will get a little cake of soap included in their low payment of one measly roasted chipmunk. If the big crash does come, I’ll be prepared, and you’ll know exactly where to find me. Just look for a sign that says “Honest Dave’s Family Bathroom Emporium” and come on down. But remember one thing: I like my chipmunks roasted medium well, and you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper.