Humblefacturing the future has positive implications for all kinds of things, from improving economic stability, to greater personal freedom. But one more crucial added bonus of working toward a more humble, visible, local way of making will be the effect on the people involved in that making. In the recent bestselling book "Shop Class as Soulcraft", author Matthew Crawford explores the real impacts that tangible technical labor has on the development of elementary and secondary students. Indeed, since the 1980s the rise of rhetoric about the coming information economy, and the need for "knowledge workers" has driven a serious recline in the way we value manual labor, particularly skilled labor. But as we have seen in the 30 years that followed, more information didn't decrease our need for complicated physical fabrication. In fact it has only increased with growth in robotics, nanotechnology, and a need for new materials to meet the need for carbon neutral and renewable objects. To get a better idea of the scope of the problem, and the potential for the solution, check out Matthew's original essay for The New Atlantis. And we know that our readership is full of makers, so sound off in the comments about your experiences with making for the soul.
The Colony, the newest project from Original Productions (creators of Deadliest Catch, among others) presents a group of "survivors" with the task of rebuilding civilization in the face of a viral plague and massive infrastructure breakdown. Realistically, it seems like junkyard wars with a slightly campy storyline (there are gangs of motorcycle thugs who periodically harass the group, among other things). It does, however, do a wonderful job of illustrating how difficult it would be for even a highly trained group (they've got a rocket scientist, for crying out loud) to quickly and smoothly respond to the kind of societal bump that a major epidemic would present. By focusing on low-energy, low education, highly flexible methods of manufacturing, Humblefacture seeks to make this sort of scenario much easier to respond to. It will be interesting to watch and see how changes like pervasive personal fabbing technology might alter the way this scenario unfolds.
Salon has a great review of Ellen Ruppel Shell's new book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. The Salon piece, by Stephanie Zacharek, looks particularly at design giant IKEA, and the real costs of using low cost as the metric by which we judge all value in products. IKEA is a good case for exploration, because on the one hand it is so well loved (compared, say, to Walmart), while on the other, it is the largest consumer of timber for furniture in the world, much of it from China. And China has some timber sourcing practices that are dubious, to say the least.
I'm very excited to read the book, because it seems to finally acknowledge that problems like environmental degradation are only symptoms. What is really sick is some more fundamental aspect of our relationship to material goods. As Shell points out in the short promo video for the book, it wasn't so long ago that "cheap" meant something entirely different, both when describing a product, and its purchaser. Many of the goals of Humblefacture will require that products become more expensive than they are now. I don't believe (And I hope the book will help to bear me out) that this higher monetary price will mean that the value of the object won't be worth it. My hope is that for a small increase in monetary cost, we can significantly impact social, environmental, community, and many other costs which don't get figured into IKEA's big blue pricetags.
Our readers in the United States will have recently spent a weekend evening grilling, relaxing, and lighting off fireworks in celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, one of the founding documents if the United States. Along with The Constitution, and its amendments, collectively the Bill of Rights, this document served to align and direct the efforts of the newly born nation. More importantly, with these documents our founders hoped to ensure (or at least suggest) that subsequent generations might work to maintain the country's formative values and goals, even in the face of new social, political, and technological developments. In honor of Independence Day, and in keeping with this charge of re-examination of our national foundation in light of new technologies, let me propose a new clause of amendment one of the Bill of Rights:
Making is Speech.