Friday, September 19, 2014

being replaced by a machine...

This morning I am doing work in which my own efforts could be replaced by that of a machine. I am making small parts from walnut and linden that will become boxes after they are all properly fitted and prepared. But as the choice is mine, I have chosen to continue making my small boxes just as I have for over 30 years. I could spend weeks making a dedicated machine of some sort, shaving minutes from the time and effort that it takes to make a box, and if I were a machinist whose sole pleasure came from making machines to do what skilled hands on their own might do and thence claim satisfaction from, I would be plotting my own liberation from effort. But I am a craftsman, after all, not a machinist.

Last night I participated in a woodworking chat with the North Carolina Woodworkers. It was easy and awkward. I found it difficult to imagine what it would be like on the other end of things, waiting patiently for me to arrange my thoughts and present them over the keyboard.

I had done a cheat sheet of posed questions and answers that was to help me keep up the pace, but I learned that the cut and paste function, moving from a word document to the chat forum did not work. So that left me on my own to punch in responses from the keyboard. Much of the interest involved my woodworking program at Clear Spring School and how we might extend our interest in wood working to subsequent generations.

Here is a bit of my prepared response:

Q. What do you see in the future as potentially having an impact on the craft?
A. I am concerned that the digital age has some negative impact in the short term. Kids are engaged in investing their energies in digital devices at such an early age, doing things that have been made easy for them by the intelligence invested in chips and software. As human beings, we have always discovered our senses of self by doing difficult and challenging things. We are hardwired for discovery, and expenditure of effort. We feel better when we have worked ourselves full out towards some noble goal. We feel pride when we can demonstrate craftsmanship and at some point, perhaps we will make a distinction between demonstrations of artificial prowess in which we demonstrate the power of our machines, and that prowess that comes through concerted effort and practice. One thing you will notice about the world of digital devices and software development is that every new development is to make things easier and more powerful, so that everyone (with the device) can do whatever it is with as little effort, as little skill and as little practice as possible.

If people don’t rediscover their hands (and feet), human culture will be made worse by it. On the other hand, if we find a balance with our digital devices and override the inclination to allow our senses and creativity to be stolen from us, the hands will always offer the potential of doing incredible, mind boggling things. You can’t simply erase the 10 million years of human development in which the hands played such a major part, in one digital age.
Make, fix and create...

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