Notes on the Relationship of Technology to Craft

We are encouraged by the cheerleaders of consumer culture to see technology as a seamless whole that embraces everything we do and that is on a hockey-stick rate of accelerated change that will eventually meet every need and fulfill every desire. In this conception of our history and development from bowed Ape-Man to buff Super-Man technology swallowed up Craft and this is what has made our ascent so rapid and miraculous.

Why does such a ridiculous notion get any play at all? Because it has been profitable to those who would like to carve off as much of the spoils for themselves at the price of just about everything. If we can have our attention overwhelmed by this sort of crap, we are less likely to see through the motives of those who promote it. “Disregard the man behind the curtain!”

What if we looked at technology and Craft from a different perspective?

Techne, is how we do things. Techne is part of Craft. Within any Craft tradition there is a fount of technical information that is passed down and evolves over time.

The break came with industrial production. As ownership and control of the making of things went from the person making things to parties who could profit off the making of things the focus shifted from how to do things better to how to get by with cheaper, and convince people they wanted what you made anyway. This was the birth of what we call technology. It was founded on the rule of the bottom-line as a way to funnel off value from the parties involved in a relationship of making and use so that another party, the owner of production, would profit. To accomplish this it was necessary to dis-empower the maker and the user and subsume their needs under the demand for profit. This required the infantilization of both maker and user. They became worker and consumer. The gap between the former positions and the latter roles says everything about the final stage of our system’s over-reach.

The factory was the way to deskill makers and turn them into workers. The robotic CAD/CAM revolution was the push to eliminate workers from the equation in the sort of monomaniacal blinkered logic of any linear and reductive enterprise.

My father used to tell the story of the Spaniard and his horse. In Portugal the Spaniard is the equivalent of the Pole in northern European lore…. He was complaining that just as he’d finally gotten the cost of upkeep for his horse down to nothing, the damned thing up and died on him! That has been the logic behind what drives technology.

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