Robert Heinlein famously said that specialization is for insects. (GIYF.) As someone who doesn’t like paying someone to perform every job I need done except for my own, but also enjoys the comforts provided by civilization, I’ve long struggled to find a balance between Heinlein’s quote and the reality that civilization can’t possibly get this far unless everyone chooses to ignore almost everything that isn’t their specialty.

A dear friend and mentor recently pointed out to me that saying yes to one thing implicitly means saying no to any number of other things. It was a light bulb moment. The concept is obvious once you’ve heard it, but opaque until then. Starting a family means I will probably never learn to play that Rachmaninoff concerto I love so much.

Should Rachmaninoff have written novels? Should Heinlein have composed symphonies?

I used to pride myself on changing the oil in my car by myself. Then I got a vehicle where it wasn’t so easy, and I started paying someone else to do it for me. Today I don’t even drive myself.

This points to a larger question: How specialized do we need to be? Obviously everybody (and every body) is different, so you need to know how to care for yourself. You can’t pay someone to go to the bathroom for you, any more than you can make your own sunshine. I need to know some neuroscience so I can manage my neurodiversity; should I abandon my current career path to become a neuroscientist? (If college weren’t so damn expensive, I would have done so years ago. My field sucks.)

Most US citizens who are eligible to vote don’t, and honestly I can’t blame them. Choosing whom to vote for takes a long time. Understanding ballot initiatives can be hard. Our government is often unresponsive and frustrating. Those of us who do vote frequently delegate these decisions to people we choose to trust–maybe a political party, or an advocacy group if you’re more issue-driven. What would it cost for voters to do the work themselves? How much of that work can be automated? How much easier can we make it?

As technology advances, those of us who work in highly technical fields have to become more and more specialized. New fields of study are being created at an astonishing and accelerating rate. Isaac Newton mastered basically all of the hard sciences available in his day by middle age–try doing that now! Most of what I learned for work in 2017 will be obsolete by 2020. I am not even remotely exaggerating.

My main question is this: What are the skills we must never delegate? I don’t count gutting pigs among them, as Heinlein did. (Perhaps he was just being glib?)

I would seriously like input on this question. If anyone is still reading this blog despite the years of neglect, you probably know how to reach me. If you’ve somehow discovered me independently, first of all welcome, and just look around for someone named naptastic. I’m not hard to find and I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

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