How much knowledge is a good thing? Learning when to ask for help when the car breaks down.

So my car wouldn’t start yesterday. I turned the key and it made a kind of rapid clicking noise, but no sound of the engine roaring into life. This was a disappointment, as i had places to be and things to do. Not to worry though, i knew what to do: i opened up the bonnet and stared at the engine for a while. Yes, it was still there. Black and silver, covered in oil and a liberal collection of wires, some of which were joined, some of which dangled with loose ends and bare metal. Yes, it was certainly an engine. I tried to apply some optimism and turned the key again, with the same noise. Nothing. And there my knowledge ran out and i called the AA.

The problem is not that i have limited mechanical knowledge: i have virtually none. I couldn’t even hit it with a hammer as i wouldn’t know which bit to hit and i don’t have a hammer.

As i was waiting for the repairman to roll up, i briefly considered enrolling on an evening course of ‘car maintenance for beginners’, to learn what to do, until i thought about how long it would take to learn even the most rudimentary of skills and then how long it would actually take me to repair anything on the car. The reality is that i am never likely to be a mechanic, good or otherwise. I don’t have the time, i don’t have the inclination and i don’t think the returns would be worth the effort. I’m not unconsciously incompetent: it’s a deliberate choice.

In the knowledge age, some things just take too long to learn. I would rather use my knowledge to earn some money elsewhere and then spend some of that money on a mechanic. Lazy i know, but these are the choices that we face.

Car mechanics are like any other professional, in that they protect their specialism with a mixture of baffling terminology and barriers to entry. I know it’s hopeless for me to argue with the mechanic, because i simply have no idea what they are talking about. Without a common frame of reference, it’s pointless e.g. ‘it’s the alternator, do you want me to replace it’. What’s an alternator? I think it charges the battery, but i’m not equipped to argue the case.

So how much knowledge is a good thing? Well, i guess the answer is ‘enough to know that you’re not being ripped off too badly’, in mechanics or any other field in life. A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but it’s probably better than no knowledge at all?

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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