Skills and Antiskills

One use­ful lit­tle con­cept that a friend and I have is that of the an­ti­skill. Like a nor­mal skill, an an­ti­skill gives you both the abil­ity and the af­for­dance to do things that you wouldn’t oth­er­wise be able to do. The differ­ence be­tween a skill and an an­ti­skill is that a skill gives you the abil­ity and af­for­dance to do things that are pos­i­tive on net, while an an­ti­skill gives you the abil­ity and af­for­dance to do things that are nega­tive on net.

For in­stance, my friend be­lieves that danc­ing is of­ten an an­ti­skill, be­cause it gives you an af­for­dance to dance rather than have in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions while at par­ties, and he con­sid­ers hav­ing in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions to be much more valuable than danc­ing—there­fore, know­ing how to dance serves pri­mar­ily to en­able choices that are bad on net.

I dis­agree with the spe­cific point in this case, but I nev­er­the­less think it’s a good ex­am­ple be­cause it illus­trates an­other key prin­ci­ple of skills and an­ti­skills—whether some­thing is a skill or an an­ti­skill is con­text-de­pen­dent. If danc­ing will largely pre­vent you from hav­ing in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions, it may well be an an­ti­skill—but if you go to a lot of night­clubs where loud mu­sic makes con­ver­sa­tion difficult, know­ing how to dance seems very use­ful in­deed!

Another ex­am­ple is the skill of know­ing how to fix com­put­ers. In many re­spects this is very use­ful, and can in­deed lead to a prof­itable ca­reer in IT. But—as I’m sure many of you may have ex­pe­rienced—hav­ing your friends and fam­ily know that you know how to fix com­put­ers can be very nega­tive on net!

Over­all, I find the skill/​an­ti­skill frame­work quite use­ful when it comes to nav­i­gat­ing what sorts of skills, abil­ities, and knowl­edge I should ac­quire. Be­fore choos­ing my next pri­or­ity, I of­ten pause to think:

  • What af­for­dances will learn­ing this give me?

  • In what con­texts will those af­for­dances be most rele­vant?

  • Will this be pos­i­tive or nega­tive on net?

Us­ing this frame­work has en­abled me to dis­cern strengths and weak­nesses that I had pre­vi­ously not con­sid­ered, and in some cases those strengths and weak­nesses have proven de­ci­sive to my plan­ning.