Quite a revolutionary idea, specialization has been leveraged in order to enjoy the comforts of modern life.  Whether it was food, shelter, clothing, or other basic human needs, people used to gather and refine these resources themselves, thus diversifying their skill-set.  Henry David Thoreau and his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, believed that specialization would be detrimental to the country and remove ourselves from being connected to the world.  However, once the population grew and humans started settling down due to irrigation and other societal infrastructures, specialization helped support the growing needs of humans.  This was due to a perceived increase in efficiency through division of labor [1].  If a process can be boiled down and streamlined into a series of basic and repetitive tasks, with an increased output rate, why would anyone need to “know and do it all”?  

Let’s imagine what goes into enjoying one cup of coffee:

I start my day with a cup of coffee

That coffee started as 100 beans growing on a tree in Columbia

The beans were picked by a worker who made about a dollar a day

They were shipped on a freighter made of steel from Japan out of Iron from Australia fueled with diesel from Venezuela

Then the beans were unloaded in New Orleans where they were roasted over flames of natural gas piped in from Oklahoma

The beans were then floated in a four ply bag of three types of plastic resin and aluminum foil from the Columbia river system in Washington state

They were shipped across the country on an 18 wheeler, brought home from the grocery store in a brown paper bag made from from douglas fir trees from western Oregon

They were ground in my kitchen in a grinder made in Taiwan with parts from 6 other countries

Then they were brewed in a coffeemaker that was made originally made in Germany with parts from a bunch of other countries

The water came from the slopes from the Cascade mountains and the electricity came from the dam on the Columbia river

Then I enjoyed my cup of coffee.


From Escape From Affluenza [2]

At the very least:

How long would it take to learn how to grow and to tend to the beans day in day out?
How long would it take to learn how to roast the beans to perfection?
How long would it take to create a grinder or a rudimentary tool to crush the beans?
How long would it take to create a coffee maker and a filtration system to avoid gritty coffee?
How long would it take to collect water, timber, and other resources for the coffee?
How long would it take to create a drinking apparatus? (cup) 

All that for one cup of coffee.. 

In today’s technologically enhanced world, automation has quickly entrenched itself in our lives.  Whether it’s using a computer, to driving a car, Boolean logic dominates the world.  Automation is the “next level” in specialization.  An extremely simple example is a macro in excel.  Written in Visual Basics for Applications, macros can help automate menial and manual tasks that would otherwise take much longer [3].  These tasks have a desired start point and a desired end point.  Engaging in specialization on an assembly line, the same concept exists.  For example, let’s assume that a worker on the assembly line will always inspect, pick, and connect two parts on the line.  This job can be boiled down to a series of steps, and as long as the inputs are always the same, we can replicate it: same orientation, same location, same speed, same shape.  With technology such as sensors detecting and rejecting defects, these jobs can be easily outsourced to robots.  At the very basic level, the “crisis” that is the shift in desired workforce skills stems from the adoption and prominence of the aforementioned.


[1] Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations.
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaK-nLw3EY8
[3] https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Quick-start-Create-a-macro-741130ca-080d-49f5-9471-1e5fb3d581a8
[4] Link to original picture – http://skuddl.com/5-best-coffee-machines-2017/