One architect, when interviewing prospective employees, would typically say, “You may have to mow the lawn sometimes.” There wasn’t much lawn to mow around that office, but the statement was an effective way of saying that we all have to pay attention to practical matters, and that may mean doing a few things that are not on your personal career agenda. In the midst of rapidly advancing technologies, practical awareness and practical skills continue to be important and useful.
Specialization and automation risk some loss of practical awareness. As we come to rely more on technology and automatic systems, we can lose our internal ability to recognize a problem. The recent addition of a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) as a feature on automobiles exemplifies such a risk. While TPMS may signal a loss of tire pressure that is not obvious to an observer, the presence of TPMS is likely to lull a driver into thinking that it is not necessary to consider the condition of the tires before traveling. Then, if the TPMS malfunctions and does not signal the driver of a loss of tire pressure, there is a risk that the driver will continue to operate a car with an under-inflated or flat tire, possibly damaging or destroying the tire…or worse. “Hey! The TPMS didn’t tell me there was a problem!” With or without TPMS, a driver needs to recognize the symptoms of a low or flat tire and to react appropriately. One of the long term effects of systems like TPMS may be TLOA (total lack of awareness).
GPS, spell-checker, and CAD (see CAD doesn’t care) are other examples of helpful technologies that may, as a side effect, reduce our internal awareness of problems. In a similar way, BIM (Building Information Modeling) offers the promise of more ways to consider a building project in its formative stages, but it will still fall to the operator or viewer to recognize a problem that needs to be corrected (see What’s wrong with this picture?).