I don’t think many would argue that, throughout history, the division of labor, into many smaller and more specific tasks, enabled specialization and tremendous gains in productivity. Once we decided that not every man needed to be a self-sufficient island, quality of life rose by leaps and bounds. We let the farmers grow the food for all, which enabled doctors to devote their time to become better at dispensing care, and soldiers were free to improve their ability to protect us. Such developments have left the rest of us much more time to contribute in our own special ways, like watching YouTube videos and playing fantasy football.
But as specialization has gone further and further, our individual survival has become entirely dependent on the persistence of the social machine. I can tell you right now, if the manager at my local supermarket loses his keys and cannot open the store, I will perish within a week. I am not capable of catching or growing a single morsel of edible matter.
Worse yet, I think the specialization movement is accelerating. Here’s my evidence: Since most of the adults in my neighborhood are like me, earning a living at some hyper-specialized task that produces essentially no social value, we have enough time on our hands to don costumes and stroll the neighborhood with our kids on Halloween (only the farmers, doctors, and soldiers need to work dependable schedules). As recently as two years ago, I recall the mobs of children moving in an orderly and systematic fashion, up one side of a street and down the other, hitting each street in sequential order, and effectively canvassing the neighborhood.
This year? I saw the little brats engaged in an exercise of ad hoc randomness, wandering from one lit up house to another, zigzagging, doubling back, and missing a great many houses all together. What do I blame? Google, of course. They have specialized "search" and reduced our dependence on organization.
The gains of “search capabilities” have come with the loss of ingrained, organized thinking and systematic intellectual classification. Prior to search, we had to keep track of information like which houses we had looted, and therefore, we approached Halloween festivities in a systematic manner. Today, kids are clearly not learning to store information in an organized way because they can just search for it.
Pretty scary Halloween for me.