Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shop Class as Soulcraft/ A review

As is often the case this book stumbled into my consciousness at the optimal time. Somebody thrust a copy in my hand at Mary & E.J's (famous) Christmas party. Having only recently decided to embark on the cargo bike project (okay....we had decided two months before) and experiencing some doubts about how viable it all was this book was the perfect catalyst to action. This is required reading for all of us who go to work every day and then have trouble explaining what it is we actually do (i.e. produce) to friends & families when we get home. Matt Crawford makes a compelling case for a return to a basic level of manual competence in opposition to 'work' that increasingly produces nothing of substance and requires little skill other than the mindless inputting of data. He argues that our mechanized, consumer industrial society has created a spurious division between thinking & doing where technocrats do the heavy conceptual lifting and the proles are left to do, well, the heavy lifting. He points to the fact that very few high schools now still have tool shops where previous generations learned the rudiments of manipulating wood & metal. Our products, or at least the ones we obsess over, are increasingly opaque as to the underlying operations that create function (think iPod). Some of the chapters are hilarious like when he describes his short stint writing abstracts for science papers for an online database. But beyond the evident utility of being able to, say, fix a leaky toilet he suggests that the act of manual labor necessitates ethical virtues, a deep intellectual capacity to problem solve and fosters individual responsibility. It also, I would argue, encourages humility and by inference, community. A very readable & accessible book and a manifesto for all the cubicle rats (and I count myself among them) who pause everyday at their computer terminal to wonder: Is this it? Highly recommended.

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