Author Topic: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands  (Read 4145 times)

I D Shukhov

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Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« on: June 20, 2014, 10:49:47 am »
I'm toying around with the idea changing my work focus to working with things instead of data.  Working with people is out -- I'll never be good at that.

Thus, this book has come to my attention:  http://www.amazon.com/Working-Hands-Office-Fixing-Things/dp/0141047291   I think I'll order it.  The price is right:  $6.42 new.

The author came on the book world scene in 2010 when he published http://www.amazon.com/Shop-Class-Soulcraft-Inquiry-Value/dp/0143117467.  I remember reading favorable reviews at the time but never bought the book.

Incidentally, the government (Obama, executive branch) is promoting the Maker Movement this week by hosting a Maker Faire on the White House grounds:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/maker-faire

With all the geopolitical and national economic issues Obama has to keep track of, I'm kind of impressed that he took time to give the speech  shown on the above URL.  It's worth listening to IMO.  The idea is that maybe kids will get interested in STEM subjects if they are inspired by educational leaders who can show them how to create things, and that should be more interesting to them than listening to a lecture, taking notes and regurgitating material.

Edit, an Amazon reviewer wrote:

Quote
I enjoyed reading Shop Class as Soulcraft and thought this was possibly the sequel to that book. However, The Case for Working with your Hands is the same book as Shop Class, but the European edition. Maybe I didn't read the discription carefully enough, though Amnazon lists this book to purchase along with the original American edition. Caveat Emptor!

Shop Class as Soulcraft might be found in a library.





TRexx

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2014, 11:02:18 am »
NPR ran a story this morning about people studying to be watchmakers. Apparently wrist watches are popular again and there is a shortage of people who can repair them.

That might be a nice job. Inside work, no heavy lifting.   

JoFrance

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2014, 02:36:47 pm »
That looks like a good book, ID.  Making something is truly fulfilling.  Being an Artisan falls into this category, also.


benali72

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #3 on: June 20, 2014, 04:48:13 pm »
I don't know about jobs, but just on a personal basis I enjoy fixing things around the house. Much more satisfying to do it yourself than having to find someone who may or may not do a good job. This week I fixed a doornob, a motion light that didn't work, and a wooden step. It's fun to me just like fixing old PCs.

I D Shukhov

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2014, 09:11:05 am »
I got Shop Class as Soulcraft out of the library and have read few pages of it.  The author, Matthew Crawford, judges everyone who is not working with their hands as leading an inauthentic life -- e.g. inflating resumes, being enslaved to meaningless metrics like lines of code -- while the noble tradesperson can:

Quote
vindicate his worth... He can simply point [to]: the building that stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.   Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect in the world.  But the tradesman must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where ones' failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away.

Maybe Crawford gets to the real point later in the book, but I'll probably never find out because I've stopped reading it.  The Real Point is not what you do, but how and where you do it.   I'd much rather be pushing papers as an owner of my own business and getting a good income rather than be an HVAC employee earning $20/hr and being forced to rip off customers to keep my job.

Crawford is constantly being revered in reviews of his book (by non-tradespeople) for owning his own motorcycle repair shop, which he said he started after starting work in a boring desk job.  Yet his web site states:

Quote
I am currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. I also run a (very) small business in Richmond, Virginia.

If you are looking for motorcycle repair, go to Shockoemoto.com

Media inquiries may be directed to...

I suppose working at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture beats fixing motorcycles.  If not, why bother with it?






The Gorn

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2014, 09:35:46 am »
I would be a lot more expansive about what constitutes "trade" work and working with your hands than what this Crawford guy is saying. To whit:

Quote
But the tradesman must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where ones' failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away.

You can say exactly the same things about a piece of software or a web site that you made.

I have a considerable interest in this notion of "living an authentic life." I've tried to do that in software but my career has been utterly demolished.

I don't think Crawford quite has it right. The real, true inauthenticity of most careers and most work is relying on a political hierarchy and not your production abilities to be judged.

You said the same thing: The Real Point is not what you do, but how and where you do it.

I believe in order to live that authentic life you have to work directly for people who count on the quality of what you produce for them.

I got fucked and screwed around as a software contractor because most of my clients literally didn't care about the quality or how I did it, and in fact they did not feel very affected by that quality. They just had what they considered commodity brute force labor to be performed. And I was always the bad guy holding things up.
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I D Shukhov

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #6 on: June 22, 2014, 06:33:36 am »
I started reading the book again.  It's got passages like this which keep me interested:

http://books.google.com/books?id=rJiV1q1SDHcC&pg=PT41&lpg=PT41&dq=consider+the+case+of+the+man+who+is+told+his+car+is+not+worth+fixing+soulcraft&source=bl&ots=PWbGNlRBeq&sig=1byj4kFS3O93vk-0Fnkb_6mlThU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=fO-mU6GcMOmwsQSo-ICoCQ&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=consider%20the%20case%20of%20the%20man%20who%20is%20told%20his%20car%20is%20not%20worth%20fixing%20soulcraft&f=false

I think why the Maker Movement is getting so much traction is because people want to feel more empowered regarding the tools we use in everyday life.  *Everything* is human-made.  Me and whatever spiders and pill bugs that inhabit my office are the only organic things here.  Everything else was manufactured by humans somewhere and got here via a purchase and me bringing the object here.

The Maker Movement is mostly a millennial thing.  Many of their baby boomer parents didn't have all that good a grounding in the use of tools and what knowledge they passed on may have been next to nothing.  So their children may have never seen a pair of locking pliers.   If something fails, they dislike the helpless feeling so there is a hunger to gain knowledge about the world of things.

As Crawford mentions in the book, there is a tendency to throw away anything that no longer works and replace it.  This does create an apathetic attitude about necessary tools (say a washing machine) despite having a dependency on them.

I agree with the "opportunity cost" argument  mentioned in the above link, but I also like Crawford's counterargument that by discounting the understanding of tools because you've got better things to do you are alienating yourself from the world of things. 

Also, as a practical matter, one puts themselves at the mercy of repair con men.   My father-in-law told me a story last night of how a dishonest car dealer one time tried to convince him to have a carburetor replaced at probably something like $1,000 in today's dollars.  This was in the days of carburetor's and chokes.  He discovered that the problem was that a fuse had blown for the electric choke and that was all that needed to be replaced.




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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #7 on: June 22, 2014, 07:43:44 am »
My father is amazing when it comes to jury rigging stuff.  I, on the other hand, can't do anything when it comes to manufacturing.  My parents are amazed when I replace a faulty tail light in my car.

I don't know how I feel about this.  I never had any desire to do it and, mostly, I still don't.

The Gorn

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2014, 09:03:58 am »
A lot of this has to do with relative economic situations, and your own personal experiences and upbringing.

My parents grew up in the 1930s depression. I have the mentality of first attempting to fix *anything* and I tend to be a DIY type. I haven't had a lot of spare cash sloshing around for years, actually, not ever.

My wife and I replaced our old electric water heater last month. We did, however, hire out hauling the heater out of the basement and hauling it away. It literally weighed 200 to 300 lbs with the sediment that had built up over 18 years. (the heater was full of lime.)

I avoided paying Guardian Security (home alarm) $200+ to redo a sensor on the front door that got ripped out when we had the door replaced. I found a local alarm company that sold me a couple of the magnetic reed switches for about $20 and I installed the new switch myself.

I've run all kinds of new power outlet circuits from our breaker box. Saved hundreds there.

I don't like to do roofing work (hate heights) and I don't like to do waste pipe plumbing (I am not skilled enough to get the angles right so stuff drains well.) I can, however, do decently at sweat soldering - water lines under pressure don't have to be works of art. I replaced our failed outside faucet a couple of years ago.

I'd feel mildly insecure if I could not do these kinds of things myself. I feel a sense of control in knowing how to do tasks. I can "audit" the value of what a workman proposes, for instance, without accepting it blindly.
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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #9 on: June 22, 2014, 09:33:08 am »
On the other hand, a critique of this way of thinking follows.

Maybe it's a waste of your abilities and talents to burden yourself with doing it yourself at all costs. Maybe doing physical, hands on work is a distraction from learning how to monetize more valuable brain work skills. Not just coding, either. Maybe sales, marketing, organizational skills in starting a business.

Some of the poorest people I've seen cut their own firewood, grow their own food, etc. and are staunchly self-reliant. Except that they can hardly afford services and goods from the prevailing economy, such as medical care, auto insurance, etc.

The entire point of civilization is to have an easier, more stable life where your talents resulting in a greater scale of effects from a given level of effort.

Working with your hands can be a decided step backward from this and an admission of defeat.
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I D Shukhov

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #10 on: June 22, 2014, 10:09:28 am »
On the other hand, a critique of this way of thinking follows.

Maybe it's a waste of your abilities and talents to burden yourself with doing it yourself at all costs. Maybe doing physical, hands on work is a distraction from learning how to monetize more valuable brain work skills. Not just coding, either. Maybe sales, marketing, organizational skills in starting a business.

Some of the poorest people I've seen cut their own firewood, grow their own food, etc. and are staunchly self-reliant. Except that they can hardly afford services and goods from the prevailing economy, such as medical care, auto insurance, etc.

The entire point of civilization is to have an easier, more stable life where your talents resulting in a greater scale of effects from a given level of effort.

Working with your hands can be a decided step backward from this and an admission of defeat.

One could like tinkering, baking bread, DIY repair projects, growing your own food for the intrinsic enjoyment of doing those things.  Or a person might want to learn enough about how something works to be able manage its maintenance intelligently while working with a professional.

Or a person may choose to trade an "easier, more stable life" for more freedom that does not require a steady income.  Presumably, in that case, you could do enough things yourself that make economic sense -- i.e. that would free you from needing a significant regular income.

But setting all of that aside (hobbies, self-reliance) there are other benefits from working with physical things for income that I've been thinking about.

1) Repair businesses cannot be offshored.  This is a huge benefit.  Almost all knowledge work can be offshored, and will be, as smart people around the world standardize on English for communicating and learn our culture.

2) Many repair businesses address urgent needs and thus must be immediately procured and paid for.   An urgent need is your air conditioner/car/plumbing stops working -- anything that can properly be labeled as a crisis.   Other less common situations include identity theft, physical security, roof leaks, pest infestations.

3) There is no age cut-off.   I can have my own physical services business when I'm 80 and nobody has to care what I look like as long as I produce a quality service.   Anything else where I have to sell some knowledge product to businesses I get discounted once I look "too old".




The Gorn

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #11 on: June 22, 2014, 10:25:53 am »
You are being too abstract and distant about this.

To address your three points:

"1) Repair businesses cannot be offshored. " Irrelevant. You must consider all competition. You are often competing against either finding the cheapest loser the person can find, rather than yourself, or, in in many cases, simply doing nothing. You are competing against the 0 cost of doing nothing.

"2) Many repair businesses address urgent needs and thus must be immediately procured and paid for. "

"Urgent" needs and small business? Take a small business with fucked up computers that are supposedly mission critical. Most of them will not pay for service to fix the problem. Instead they will assign the dumbest person in the office to fuck it up more. That was my experience. Recovering data? Only if recovery is dirt cheap. Most of the idiots who run small businesses will willingly lose 5 years of Quickbooks data than back it up by hiring a geek for a hundred and buying a backup drive.

"3) There is no age cut-off. " I had a lot of people snickering at the "older guy with a degree" who was such a fucking loser that he had to work with PCs.

I thought these same things about the computer repair business and I was fucking smashed in the face with 10 tons of humiliation bricks. And measly pay and rates, and huge competition.

I left quite a few small businesses with a caption balloon over my head: "I hope your business fails, you stupid insulting m!&^@er fucker."

I wasn't this way going into it. I was mildly optimistic.

I speak from direct personal experience: in our culture "fixing" physical things is assigned a level only slightly above that of someone who lives in a box under a bridge.  The fact is, no matter how you present it, hands on work simply isn't respected in our culture.

That fact must be understood going in.
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I D Shukhov

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2014, 11:19:09 am »
As far as being abstract, I have to be because I have never tried to start a physical services business.   I appreciate your viewpoint on the subject since I want to learn as much as I can as I explore the idea as a thought experiment.

I agree that all forms of competition have to be considered, not just offshoring.  An example from where I live is how Hispanics have come to dominate the home remodeling business.  At least that's my take from seeing who works on houses 3 miles in any direction from where I live.  The learning -- both technical and business -- about how to be successful at it must spread within their culture.  I think it is often subcontracted out, but they must be moving up the ownership ladder.  I heard a guy with a construction hat discussing a blueprint in Spanish at one site.  It's very much how ilconsiglliere describes the Indian IT dominance in New Jersey.

OTOH, HVAC, car repair and some specialized building services, such as electrical, don't seem to be so dominated.

Since I come from an IT background I usually think offhoring (edit:  ha ha, I think I'll leave it spelled that way!) related to IT.  That's an IT mindset which has been etched into my brain.  I actually don't know what the impacts are in other knowledge work fields but can imagine others to be impacted.

When I discussed "urgent need" I assumed it to be consumer-based, not small-business.  It's any repair that must be fixed ASAP  and which the consumer can't or won't attempt themselves  and which replacement is not a cost-effective option.

Respect for people who repair something you need fixed depends on how much you need the thing to be repaired.  A few years ago I flushed the toilet in the basement and sewage starting coming out of the downstairs drain and covered the washroom floor with about an inch of black filth.   I freaked out and called a drain cleaning service.  Somebody came out with all the equipment and got the drain unclogged and charged me $300.   I didn't like it, but was actually thankful that he had solved the problem.

I don't underestimate the difficulty of starting *any kind* of business.   I can't think of any IT business -- for me, anyway -- that's feasible, so I'm considering other things.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2014, 11:35:05 am by I D Shukhov »

The Gorn

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #13 on: June 22, 2014, 11:39:22 am »
Let me say something that you may relate to better.

Changing the type of work, the work content, isn't really a solution. Physical work or brain work, you're exactly the same person. Physical jobs can easily be bullshitty and abstracted. Cerebral jobs can truly count and be significant in their own right. Being physical doesn't make something "real." Tactics and strategies and ideas aren't physical but they are where EVERYTHING done by humans starts.

So I completely disagree with the premise of this book. I think it has some limited validity, but the people who really need its message almost have no souls anyway.

Anecdote: I rented half of a duplex I owned years ago to a relocating executive and his wife. The guy would call me to complain about (for instance) having to jiggle the toilet handle. He was an utter  douchebag: he expected that underlings took care of physical reality while he was on cloud 9 for being brilliant. Someone like him needs to be sent to a re-education camp where they learn that they aren't better than everyone else.

That douchebag needed to learn why working with your hands is a character test much more than anyone on this board.

In my own career and life, I'd become low man in terms of prestige and perceived competency in IT. When I moved to other fields, that stigma seemed to follow me.

I believe in myself but I don't (specifically) believe in my ability to "make" others believe in me. Somehow I either lost that ability, or I never had it to begin with.

Making the work physical, or non-IT, or repair instead of creative, won't make a difference. I need to solve that problem in my own head to see a reflection of the solution in the real world.

Quote
When I discussed "urgent need" I assumed it to be consumer-based, not small-business.  It's any repair that must be fixed ASAP  and which the consumer can't or won't attempt themselves  and which replacement is not a cost-effective option.

Business 101: you go where the money is. False dichotomy you're drawing there.

Consumers aren't really where any money is if you're talking custom services. Or unless you're willing to literally work in shit. Trust me on this.
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The Gorn

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Re: Book: The Case for Working With Your Hands
« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2014, 11:53:24 am »
My next act, as Mr. Debby Downer, will be...  :o
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