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Let’s not Forget Real-World Survival Skills (Opinion)

The survival of the fittest in the 21st century requires a mix of old and new skills.

As more and more of us are growing up in inner cities and at a time when core manufacturing has in large part migrated abroad and technology seemingly does everything for us, it’s easy to lose touch with how to do everyday things for ourselves.

At times, we all feel astutely aware of our inability to do things for ourselves — whether that’s cooking (thank goodness for that microwave), cleaning (what would I do without my Dyson?), shopping (time to log on to Amazon) and soon, even driving a car (Google driverless cars are already on the road).

But more than that, getting even further to the basics of survival, how many of us can grow our food (enough to live healthily on), fish/hunt (and actually catch something good), dig a working well (for drinking water), build a home (more than a shelter), enable plumbing and electrical, or build and maintain the machines that make life livable (no, I’m not talking about your Xbox, but how about a generator or catalytic converter)?

Perhaps this daily cluelessness is one of the outcomes of our falling scores in science and math, dropping enrollment and competitiveness in everything engineering. Or maybe it is an outgrowth of the “me generation” and getting used to the good life of advanced technologies, robotics, the Internet and a culture endeared to work-life balance.

Sure, we’ve gotten good at navigating Windows, building apps, chatting shorthand on email and instant messaging, networking on social media and searching the Internet for what we want, and that’s all nice gravy, but it’s a long way from real-world survival skills — or anything that would be useful in darker or apocalyptic times.

In response, some people are getting skills in the basics from cooking to car mechanics and general home improvement. And others are seeking more intensive capabilities in do-it-yourself design and manufacturing. To facilitate this, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, some have even embarked on crafting “civilization starter kits” with open source design and training on the 50 tools and machines for a “completely self-sufficient community.”

While not everyone needs to be certified in survival, evasion, escape and resistance, there’s a movement and genuine need to know more than how to turn on the computer and press the button (while stepping on the brake) to start your car’s engine.

Like with most things in life, balance is the name of the game. We need to be able “to walk and chew gum” at the same time — to learn ever new technology skills and simultaneously retain tried-and-true, core survival and self-sufficiency.

There will come a time — whether from a natural or man-made disaster — when the lights will go out and those who have integrated past and present skills will be the true essence of survival of the fittest.

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.