This afternoon I saw a fire truck with the following written on the side:
Staffed by professional volunteers
Of course this is an oxymoron if you take the words literally. A more accurate slogan would be
Staffed by well-qualified amateurs
A professional is someone who does a thing for money, and an amateur is someone who does it for love. Volunteer fire fighters are amateurs in the best sense, doing what they do out of love of the work and love for the community they serve.
Unfortunately professional implies someone is good at what they do, and amateur implies they are not. Maybe skill and compensation were more strongly correlated in the past. When most people had less leisure a century or two ago, few had the time to become highly proficient at something they were not paid for. Now the distinction is more fuzzy.
Because more people work for large organizations, public and private, it is easier to hide incompetence; market forces act more directly on the self-employed. It’s not uncommon to find people in large organizations who are professional only in the pecuniary sense.
It’s also more common now to find people who are quite good at something they choose not to practice for a living. I could imagine three ways the Internet may contribute to this.
- It makes highly skilled amateurs more visible by giving them an inexpensive forum to show their work.
- It gives amateurs access to information that would have once been readily available only to professionals.
- It has reduced the opportunities to make money in some professions. Some people give away their work because they can no longer sell it.