Thursday, November 07, 2013

a bit of what's being lost to computer technologies....

Norm Brosterman's excellent book, Inventing Kindergarten is the subject of a kickstarter campaign to bring it back in print. I hope my readers will support this worthwhile project. It is 12 days from the deadline and is well on its way to making it.

A friend of mine had gone to Fayetteville, Arkansas for a CT scan of his abdominal region. He had pains that the doctor wanted to investigate. He had been through the procedure and was on his way home with his wife, when she got an emergency call from the doctor asking that they turn around immediately and head back to the hospital. The doctor was, as he explained it, convinced that my friend had a malignant tumor.

Bob was prepped for surgery, and Cindy was terrified by the doctor's suspicions. What the doctor found, however, was not a tumor, but an inflamed appendix. Cindy was relieved. Bob recovered. It seems that this kind of misdiagnosis is actually quite common because doctors are no longer routinely taught to use and trust the sensitivity of their own hands. This article from Tufts explains it. Why CT Scans are Bad, All Will Be Revealed. It seems that doctors of old were taught simple methods of diagnosing appendicitis, by poking and prodding the patient's underbelly. You probably experienced this yourself in your youth. As doctors have become more reliant on technology and less on their own learned sensitivities, mistakes due the unnecessary application of high technologies have become commonplace.

The computer is also having a detrimental impact on design, as Traditional skills are being lost by designers relying on computers. A reader asked if I would explain some of the qualities of character that are being lost as we've become a culture in which making things for ourselves is no longer the norm. As described above, sensitivity in the manipulation of hands, tools and materials is certainly a matter of concern when it comes to training the doctors and nurses who work on our own bodies, and in the field of design where appropriate use of materials has impact on the usefulness and longevity of the objects that we take into our lives and upon which (in some cases) our lives may depend.

Children of all classes and from all income levels and particularly those in positions of entitlement need to learn the values that are acquired from working with their hands.  The following is from Otto Salomon, written in the century before last:
"Persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labor at less than their real value. They think it much more difficult to solve a mathematical problem than to make a table. It is not an easy thing to make a parcel-pin or a pen-holder with accuracy, and when students have done these things they will be the better able to estimate comparatively the difficulty of making a table or chair; and what perhaps is of still greater importance, they will become qualified to decide between what is good and what is bad work, and thus avoid the misfortunes which befall the ignorant and credulous through the impositions of knaves."
This matter is even worse now than what Salomon describes. So many from all sectors of society have so little sense of what it takes to create, and have not learned that craftsmanship is the foundation of human culture. As our economy fades relative to that of other nations, those who have power and those who do not have little to do but stand idly by with twiddling thumbs.

 If we look at the mountains of trash that are buried outside our major cities each year, consisting of garbage mixed with discarded consumer products you might get a sense of the scope. Fortunately, for most folks, they locate these "sanitary landfills" in places where we can choose to ignore what we've done. We have become a thoughtless consumer culture in which folks choose on impulse whatever they want without regard to quality, then dispose of it with no further thought. We buy these objects with no thought for the person who made them or for the circumstances in which they were made, and with no thought for the environmental costs involved. There are important cultural values that can be learned only through the act of making real things and through efforts to create useful beauty: To be conscientious in the use of materials... To be attentive and caring in one's own labors... To be respectful of the work of others and to assign full value to their efforts...

When you shape something of useful beauty in your own hands through your own application of intellect some terms come to mind that have moral implications. Authenticity, truth, care, integrity, purpose, diligence, practice, skill, mindfulness,  respect, curiosity, thrift...

I can go on, but instead will simply attempt to...

Make, fix and create...


  1. Your entry today reminds me about something I have been directed to by others, plus you have covered in the past - The Story of Stuff. For those that have not seen it type that phrase in Google and you will see.

  2. Doug, outstanding post and an observation in which I share. I only hope we can continue to teach those who are interested to create with their hands.

  3. Doug,

    Your comments remind me of a bumper sticker I saw once. It said, "What do you mean throw it away? There is no away."