Hyperspecialization, Career, and Conformity

Published at 18:41 on 22 September 2013

It happened again last week. One of my co-workers — this time, one of the smartest people in the company, in fact, though most everyone where I work is above average in intelligence — was in the basement garage retrieving his bicycle at the same time I was retrieving mine.

He started walking with it in the direction of the elevator. To which I remarked:

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Oh, you have a door opener? I don’t.”

“Yes, I do, but that’s irrelevant. You can get out without one. There’s a button.”


It was one of the first things I checked on my first day riding a bike to work, because: a) I had no garage door opener at the time, b) it’s easier to exit from the garage door, and c) I was at least 99% certain there was some way to exit without an opener. The latter point was because of two reasons a) fire codes typically mandate that all doors be usable as exits, and b) the building management’s own self-interest is to allow drivers whose door openers fail after hours (batteries do die, after all) a way to get out that does not require them to go to the expense of dispatching someone to free the entrapped vehicle.

And sure enough, there it was: a standard, commercial-grade up/stop/down garage door control. A quick push on the “up” button, the door opened, and I was on my way significantly faster than if I had taken my bike up to the first floor on the elevator. I thought little further about the matter.

What floors me is that people who are smart enough to get advanced degrees (far more advanced than mine, and probably with a far better GPA than I managed as well) never even seem to go down that same train of thought. It’s not as if it’s a very complex or difficult one; it’s all pretty basic facts and logic.

It’s related, I think, to how badly I cope with advanced capitalist society’s demand that one hyperspecialize in one small area such as writing computer software. It’s one reason most of my spare-time pursuits are decidedly non-software; I crave the variety. I start going nuts if I have to do almost the same thing all the time.

It’s one reason my career path has generally been so rocky: simply because it’s a career path, and any such path falls afoul of my need for variety.

So maybe it’s not a surprise that someone who’s done better than I in the career world (and the academic world, for that matter, which also demands hyperspecialization) wouldn’t realize he could almost certainly use the garage door to exit. It’s something he can easily ignore as off-subject.

I wouldn’t trade the way I am, however. It’s probably the biggest reason why I’m an anarchist: because I have, over my life, felt compelled to dive into various diverse areas of knowledge. I know enough about enough things that standard propaganda tends to not work that well on me: I can come up with counterexamples and see the logical fallacies hiding beneath the rhetoric.

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