Parallels between Hunter-gathers and modern knowledge work

Some quotes

“The group engaged entirely in foraging spent forty to fifty per cent of daylight hours at leisure,” Dyble told me, when I asked him to summarize his team’s results, “versus more like thirty per cent for those who engage entirely in farming.” His data validates Lee’s claim that hunter-gatherers enjoy more leisure time than agriculturalists, though perhaps not to the same extreme. Missing from these high-level numbers, however, is an equally important observation: how this leisure time was distributed throughout the day. As Dyble explained, while the farmers engaged in “monotonous, continuous work,” the pace of the foragers’ schedules was more varied, with breaks interspersed throughout their daily efforts. “Hunting trips required a long hike through the forest, so you’d be out all day, but you’d have breaks,” Dyble told me. “With something like fishing, there are spikes, ups and downs . . . only a small per cent of their time is spent actually fishing.”

The final point of difference I observed concerns the nature of the work occupying our time then and now. “[H]ow do you become a successful hunter-gatherer?” Lucassen asks in his magisterial “The Story of Work.” “You must learn it, and the apprenticeship is long.” Drawing from multiple anthropological sources, Lucassen presents a common “schema” for training competent hunters. Young children are given toy hunting weapons to familiarize them with their tools. Next, between the ages of five and seven, they join hunting trips to observe the adults’ techniques. (In general, Lucassen notes, observation is prioritized over teaching.) By the age of twelve or thirteen, children can hunt on their own with their peers and are introduced to more complex strategies. Finally, by late adolescence, they’re ready to learn the details of pursuing larger game. An entire childhood is dedicated to perfecting this useful ability.

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A few quotes that stood out to me:

We must, of course, take care with any such investigation. The human brain is malleable, making it hard to distinguish between activities for which humans might be fundamentally wired, and those for which our minds are simply adjusting to meet the demands of the moment.

Where do the distractions of the modern Internet play into this?

I recently watched some of the early seasons of the History Channel survival program “Alone,” some of which were filmed in notoriously damp British Columbia. It struck me how often the contestants, many of whom were world-class survivalists, struggled to get fires started, even with the help of modern ferro rods, which spew showers of sparks. For hundreds of thousands of years, one can assume, humans consistently conjured flames, under all types of demanding conditions, and without the benefit of modern tools. The frustrated survivalists on “Alone” regularly practiced the art of fire-starting. Early humans mastered it.

Why do we follow a factory-style work schedule, or feel forced to perform busyness, or spend more time in meetings talking about projects rather than actually completing them?

It makes sense why so many enjoy hunting, fishing, etc. It is activity, that if done without excessive modern gadgetry, requires very high skill levels. However, I think gardening can be similar if you avoid the “industrial” mindset – it is a highly varied and very enjoyable, and also requires high levels of skill to be successful.