Admiration for people who make things

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 1, 2017, 6:38 PM | comments: 0

A former coworker posted a photo today of a piece of furniture that he made. I apologize if that sounds wholly unremarkable to you, because to me it seems pretty amazing. To take raw materials and create something is, I think, one of the most amazing abilities of human beings.

While I don't see any universe where you can argue that technology hasn't advanced human civilization (in a net gain sort of way), there is something to be said for making tangible stuff. My grandfather worked his entire life at a machine shop where he would draft machines, on a drafting board, by hand, and they would transform his drawings into things made right there. Some people value craftsmanship enough to pay whatever it takes to buy goods made by human hands, especially furniture. When you walk into an old building, especially a theater, and see the detail in the architecture and decorative patterns, you know that skilled people had to make that happen.

I admire people who have these abilities. Heck, it doesn't even have to be something glamorous. I was impressed when a couple of guys did some electrical work in my garage. I certainly don't have that expertise. It's kind of weird in our culture that we don't seem to value the trades the way we used to. I realize that a lot of the work is done by machines (and they don't get it right either, as a number of people in my neighborhood discovered when we had walls that weren't flat), but you still need people to assemble stuff, lay bricks, install pipes, etc. Those are important jobs, and the result of their work is the places that people live and work for many years after.

Making durable things isn't exclusively about the trades though. I might be selling my profession short here, but we don't make durable things. The Silicon Valley culture with billions of dollars being spent on yet another "app" or something isn't very interesting to me. Admittedly, my frustration in that case is less about the output and more about the goals, which is often to fund something until you can sell it and cash out. Those people think they're making "value" which in and of itself is not really a thing. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons why I find Tesla so intriguing. It's a technology company, yes, but their business is to take raw materials in one door, and cars and batteries and solar panels come out the other door. They make stuff, with skilled people (and a lot of robots) doing the work.

So I tip my hat to people who make things.


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