Saturday, January 30, 2010
Every Once in a While a book Comes...
At our last book club's meeting we discussed Matthew B. Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft, a philosophical treatise of the value of manual work.
The book is not our usual fare. We read lighter stuff, fictional narratives mostly. Our favorite book had been The Last Chinese Chef. Why this book then? Because each of us attempts to bring something new to the group, something with which we are not acquainted.
This book takes me back to the times of my parents, and their parents, a time when shop classes were full of young men learning carpentry, mechanics, electronics. My maternal grandparents represented in this picture, Anna and Paolo Rapolla, and their oldest girls, Graziella and Addolorata, my mother, were land owners, well to do people, who hired help whenever they needed to. However, they had a "can-do" attitude about everything. If something broke, they tried to fix it with whatever materials were available. They sewed all their clothes, grew their own food, canned and preserved what they needed to survive harsh winters, and taught their children, boys as well as girls to solve their own problems at home and at school. Punishment was doled out fairly, and praise was reserved for outstanding accomplishement. Nobody received a student of the day stamp, or a student of the month certificate. These tangible tokens were rare, reserved for the top achiever in the entire school. Work was visible, appreciated, valued, and understood.
The book covers the distance we have come in our work places from a time when we knew the product and how to fix it if it broke, to the present time when we are on an assembly line that stretches across the entire globe, where a product is envisioned, blueprinted, digitalized, packaged and sold before it ever gets out of the factory which might be made of many parts assembled in different locations, with instructions written in different languages. Ugh? I'm tired just thinking about this.
So, doing is no longer bound with thinking.
I can be working on a piece of a puzzle I have no idea what it is.
My success rests on two things only: how I interact with my boss; and how I appear to be useful. My bullshitting skills are more important than any other skill.
When the product breaks down, finding out who did what that caused this or that, may be a monumental problem. Look at today's problem of Toyota's.
Our value and self-concept are now based on the opinions of others, not the quality of our work.
Why, many products are manufactured with defects that make them throw-a-ways, one use only. We are so tied down to keeping the present job because without it we cannot pay the mortgage or the bill at the orthodontist, that we do what is required of us without questioning, without lifting an additional finger, without tipping the balance of power and relationships.
No wonder we feel empty, depressed and dissatisfied. Time to go shopping for something to make us feel better, right after we stop to drink at the place where they know our name, and won't tell on us.