Race against the machine

One of my favourite museums is the National Palace Museum (Gu Gong) in Taipei, Taiwan. It houses part of the Chinese imperial collection, which was taken to Taiwan in 1948 during the Chinese civil war by Chiang Kai-shek. Beijing has its own version but Chiang took the good stuff. He wasn’t much of a leader or military mind but he did know good art. When I view the incredible objects in that museum and others, I am somewhat saddened that the skill and know-how required to make such beautiful things either no longer exists or is rapidly vanishing. This loss of skill is apparent just walking around American cities much less those of Europe and Asia. The stone masons that carved the wonderful details on the Wrigley Building in Chicago are all gone, which brings me to this moving story about passing the exceedingly stringent test to be a London cabbie (story here).

In order to be an official London black cab driver, you must know how to get between any two points in London in as efficient a manner as possible. Aspiring cabbies often take years to attain the mastery required to pass their test. Neural imaging has found that their hippocampus, where memories are thought to be formed, is larger than normal and it even gets larger as they study. The man profiled in the story quit his job and studied full-time for three years to pass! They’ll ride around London on a scooter memorizing every possible landmark that a person may ask to be dropped off at. Currently, cabbies can outperform GPS and Google Maps (I’ve been led astray many a time by Google Maps) but it’s only a matter of time. I hope that the cabbie tradition lives on after that day just as I hope that stone masons make a comeback.

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3 thoughts on “Race against the machine

  1. I read this book, about the (then) disappearing art of bamboo weaving.
    http://www.amazon.com/Contemporary-Japanese-Bamboo-Arts-Pollard/dp/1878529676/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415822338&sr=1-3

    The Japanese government recognized the problem and declared some traditional artisans as “national living treasures.” This program includes money for teaching and for paid apprenticeships.

    The collision between Japanese venerated arts done by elderly men and the sexism that pervades the society created a viable career path for middle-aged women who were fired from their jobs when they got married or got pregnant.

    The author noted that most of the workshops he visited had apprentices. In many or most cases, the favored apprentice was a woman who had finished raising children but was blocked by sexism from rejoining her former career.

    So the Japanese traditional arts will live on, but in women for the next generation.

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