It is common wisdom, that we live in what has been described by some commentators, as a post-industrial society, where data commoditization (FaceBook, Amazon, Google) and technology (Apple, Samsung) are the prime movers in our global economy. It is estimated that by 2018, 60% of the world’s population (7 billion) will be online and more people will be in possession of a mobile smartphone (6 billion) than have flushing toilets (4.5 billion).

The impact of the advance of technology has been to create a distance between our physical involvement in the things we consume. We have become passive and dependant consumers. If you buy an electrical appliance, the cable, which connects it to the electricity socket, will have a sealed plug, so that you cannot replace the plug without buying a new cable. It would be simpler to buy a new plug and fit it yourself. If you are lucky to afford to buy a new Mercedes, it will not have a dipstick to check the level of the engine oil, instead the on-board diagnostic computer will tell you that the oil is low and you should have the car serviced. Of course, there is no way of knowing whether the on-board diagnostic computer has it right. Ordinary consumers do not get involved with the things they buy; they either replace the defective products or call an expert. This leads to a passive and dependant consumer culture detached from the physical world.

The idea of craftsmanship, using your own physical labour to create or repair something, is slowly retreating. You can see this in schools where vocational training is second best to a university education. If you visit the BMW factory in Leipzig, Germany where they are producing the new BMW i8, the manufacturing process requires manual workers to operate machines, which in turn produce machines. To relieve the boredom of the manual workers there are given frequent breaks and are transferred from one phase of the manufacturing process to another.

The skilled manual worker necessary to manufacturing process is now replaced by the operative who seem to know all about the machines that make the products but little about the products themselves. There is a wonderful example of decline of skilled craftsman in the book called ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance’ by Robert Pirsig where he takes his pride and joy, Harley Davidson motorcycle to be repaired or rather butchered by a young mechanic who he describes as ‘good-natured, friendly, easy-going – and uninvolved… there was no identification with the job’.

The case for returning to involvement in our physical world by using our mind and hands is described in a book written by Matthew Crawford called ‘The Case for Working with your Hands’. Crawford makes the case for self-reliance and moving away from continual dependence of products of the corporate world. This call for a move away from consumerism and a return to craftsmanship is actively pursued by Tom Hodgkinson who established his ‘Idler Academy’ ( )which promotes a return to husbandry and craftsmanship such as sewing, carpentry, bee keeping and playing the ukulele. The Idler Academy follows the tradition of William Morris, who was a 19th century novelist, poet and designer. William Morris was strongly associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement which was a backlash against Victorian industrial mass production and promoted idea of returning to working with your hands to create beautiful things, such as textiles and furniture.

In conclusion, post-industrial society with its dependence on passive consumerism does not mean we cannot re-establish the role of ‘craftsmanship’ in our daily lives through adopting activities which engage us physically in the world. See you at the next ukulele class at the Idler Academy.

Domenic Pini – Pini Franco LLP

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