August 8, 2012

A Hericlitean world, where all is in flux...

A friend sent this... The Nation Is Losing Its Toolbox - Slashdot:

Hugh Pickens writes
"Louis Uchitelle writes that in Aisle 34 of Home Depot is precut vinyl flooring, the glue already in place. In Aisle 26 are prefab windows, and if you don't want to be your own handyman, head to Aisle 23 or Aisle 35, where a help desk will arrange for an installer, as mastering tools and working with one's hands recede as American cultural values. 'At a time when the American factory seems to be a shrinking presence, and when good manufacturing jobs have vanished, perhaps never to return, there is something deeply troubling about this dilution of American craftsmanship,' writes Uchitelle.

'Craftsmanship is, if not a birthright, then a vital ingredient of the American self-image as a can-do, inventive, we-can-make-anything people.' Mass layoffs and plant closings have drawn plenty of headlines and public debate over the years, and they still occasionally do. But the damage to skill and craftsmanship -- what's needed to build a complex airliner or a tractor, or for a worker to move up from assembler to machinist to supervisor -- has gone largely unnoticed. 'In an earlier generation, we lost our connection to the land, and now we are losing our connection to the machinery we depend on,' says Michael Hout. 'People who work with their hands are doing things today that we call service jobs, in restaurants and laundries, or in medical technology and the like.' The damage to American craftsmanship seems to parallel the precipitous slide in manufacturing employment. And manufacturing's shrinking presence helps explain the decline in craftsmanship, if only because many of the nation's assembly line workers were skilled in craft work. 'Young people grow up without developing the skills to fix things around the house,' says Richard T. Curtin. 'They know about computers, of course, but they don't know how to build them.'"...

Well, I agree with these things. And I'm a privileged person, because I have a both connection with the land, having grown up in a horticultural family. And with machines and tools--I work with them every day. I'm in a sense far "richer" that the average American, just in being able to prune our trees with confidence, and build my own furniture. (Alas, time seems to shrink and shrink, and finding enough time to do those things is a grief.)

But what strikes me about this piece is how unreflective it is. It assumes that there is this solid stable mountain called "America," any pebbles falling from which must be noted with alarm. It doesn't seem to cross the writer's mind that everything in America could be changing, including the very words and concepts the author is thinking with. That we are now in a Hericlitean world where all is change... that the mountain is made of Jello... this doesn't seem to be on the radar.

The "Information Age" happened because of a change in how people thought. (I write about America, because that is what I have a feel for. But the same changes happened across the developed world.) It started before most people had even touched digital technology. It emerged in the 60's, approximately, though the tectonic plates had been moving below the surface throughout the 20th century. And it was a matter of people waking up one day with a new outlook. Suddenly the Industrial Age focus on stability seemed like a childish dream. They hardly knew that their own thoughts had morphed, because the old ideas suddenly seemed wispy, and the new ones were compellingly obvious!

This is, I think, "my question." My issue, my obsession. How do we deal with change, when everything is changing? Including the minds that might want to discuss the question of change? Alas, no one is interested. But I continue to mention this in a desultory way, because it would not be surprising if our current state of denial breaks down. And then perhaps people will start Googling "Information Age" and "change" and perhaps discover my musings...

Posted by John Weidner at August 8, 2012 8:17 AM
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