Our Gen Z kids and grandkids are digital natives. They can convey nuance in their text messages, effortlessly navigate wherever they want to go, and get a pizza delivered anywhere, anytime. But they’ve never learned some of the old-school, analog skills most of us were taught as we grew up. Does it matter?
1. The skill: Read and write in cursive
Does it matter? TIME Magazine says yes, claiming that cursive writing is harder to forge, activates different parts of the brain, and allows people to read historical documents in their original form. Other than signing your name, I’m not convinced. The only time my kids need to read cursive is when they get cards from their grandparents, and those can be “translated” easily.
2. The skill: Dial a rotary phone
Does it matter? Probably not. When was the last time you needed to use a rotary phone? In any case, it’s something kids could learn in about a minute. Watching teens try to make a call with a rotary phone is entertaining, though. (For more phone-related fun, check out this 1954 Bell System video tutorial on how to switch from operator-assisted calls to dial calls.)
3. The skill: Sew
Does it matter? According to Martha Stewart, yes, for practical and educational reasons. Sewing allows you to design, create, and mend clothing, and it can help build planning and math skills and hand-eye coordination. I still put my rudimentary sewing skills to use when I need to sew on a button or repair a small tear, but I leave the more complex projects to the experts.
4. The skill: Navigate with a map or compass
Does it matter? Maybe. PBS Kids says reading maps helps build spatial reasoning skills, and certainly understanding compass directions and the concept of the magnetic North Pole should be part of everyone’s education. It’s tough to compete with the technology behind Waze and Google Maps, though. A map or compass might come in handy when that technology isn’t available, as long as you can manage to find a map or compass.
5. The skill: Drive a standard-shift car
Does it matter? Most of the time, probably not. Sorry, stick-shift aficionados (and I count myself among them). Edmunds reports that only 1.2% of new cars sold in 2019 had manual transmissions, as of October. As much as some of us may love them, it looks like shifting for ourselves is on its way out.
6. The skill: Change the oil in a car
Does it matter? It depends. Family Handyman says you can change your own oil in about 20 minutes and save some money. I’m sure this project would take me a lot longer than 20 minutes, and I’m not convinced on the cost savings. You need to buy oil and a filter, own or borrow the right tools, and have access to a garage or driveway where you can work. You also need to take your used oil someplace to recycle it. It’s nice to know how to change your own oil, and rewarding to do things yourself, but for most of us, the time vs. money trade-off probably isn’t worth it.
7. The skill: Replace a flat tire
Does it matter? Yes, but being able to use this skill in real life is questionable. AAA reported in 2017 that 28% of new cars didn’t come with spare tires. About 14% of new cars come with run-flat tires; for the rest, manufacturers have often eliminated spares to improve fuel efficiency. If you don’t have a spare, you can’t change a tire. And even when you do have a spare, lug nuts are often so tight that many of us can’t loosen them to remove the flat tire.
8. The skill: Find a book with a library’s card catalog
Does it matter? Nostalgic as we may be, it’s hard to make an argument for this one. The Smithsonian reported on the death of the card catalog in 2015.
9. The skill: Balance a checkbook
Does it matter? The skill matters; the system, not so much. To be sure, monitoring your accounts for accuracy and keeping your expenses below your income are cornerstones of personal finance. Logging in online to check your finances regularly works better than a paper-and-pencil system for just about all of us.
10. The skill: Look something up in a dictionary, thesaurus or encyclopedia
Does it matter? The Week makes an argument for print dictionaries over their online counterparts and points to the serendipity factor — while looking up one word you’ll likely come across other words that are interesting.
It’s tougher to make that argument for a thesaurus, where you’re likely looking for an alternative to a word you already know.
And your options for analog encyclopedias are limited. The Encyclopedia Britannica’s 2010 version was its last in print, and the World Book is the only general encyclopedia still being printed today.
11. The skill: Remember phone numbers
Does it matter? Yes. It’s a good idea for all of us to memorize, or at least have analog access to, an emergency contact number at minimum. But with 10-digit phone numbers, multiple area code overlays, and phones serving individuals, not families, it’s not feasible for most of us to commit a lot of numbers to memory.
12. The skill: Put a stamp on the correct corner of an envelope
Does it matter? Um, yes. Everyone should know how to do this.