Saturday, February 07, 2015

What does plastic bring to mind?

Yesterday I test printed a 3-D hand, and now have parts to finish and assemble but for one part that came loose from the production platform and came out as a snarled mass of disconnected strands. There are little holes in the parts  through which strings can be run to allow the fingers to respond to flexing of the wrists. I printed this hand at 85% scale, so it will be a hand used only for the practice of making such a thing.

Don't we have to wonder what all this  making of stuff is about? An article in Time Magazine this week tells about the new sharing economy, in which the value inherent in things comes from your willingness to share them with others. It can be where you loan your car to a stranger for a certain exchange of cash, or where you take your ideas and share them on the internet simply for the reward of attention that you receive in return. Think instagram. Joel Stein suggests that you can only share your new carpet on instagram once and beyond that it is old news, and in the sharing economy may be of little further value except that it may keep your feet warm and cushion your step. The idea of a community of concerned makers sharing expertise for free in the making of free useful things seems to fit right in.

Wedding planners are now suggesting that as a gift, you give an experience rather than an object. Think Tahiti, for the value of an experience is greater than the monetary value of Aunt Esther's lamp.

Knowing this makes one wonder about the value of making stuff, particularly when the making of stuff comes through a 3-D printer, without any greater effort than loading the right colored plastic filament, and downloading someone else's plans from Thingiverse and then keeping your hands out of the way as the objects magically appear.

Henry David Thoreau may have been the first citizen of our new age. Joel Stein explains that Thoreau had been "horrified by the realization that he had to dust all his possessions." Thoreau had said, "I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass" and noted that  "Man is rich in proportion to the amount of things he can leave alone." Can the same be said of tools? Tools give us the power to create, but if the purpose of that creation is the creation of self, perhaps careful selection of tools and projects is required.

As we have all become students of life, and as life itself no longer falls within the former pattern having to do with the senseless acquisition of stuff, we may find even greater truth in Otto Salomon's saying that the value of the student's work is in the student. The object crafted by the student is evidence of learning and of character,  intelligence and service. (we hope).

As we become more purposefully experiential and less determined to corner the world's market of stuff, it makes greater sense to eschew the high-tech world of wonders and to enlist one's hands in the development of skill with simple tools. Perhaps that's why my students love woodworking.

Make, fix and create...

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