So, an introduction is necessary. What is Unconvenient all about?
Getting closer to the action
The modern world is full of wonder: we have machines which can do almost anything for us, including wash our clothes, cook our food (then wash up), help us go to sleep, to wake up, to find our way around, put our singing in tune, create art, build our cars, make a cup of coffee, protect our homes, choose our books for us, measure our own blood-sugar levels…
All sorts of things.
And much of this would not be possible (indeed typing this would not be possible) without technology becoming increasingly democratic, no longer expert-only, beautiful, seamless and fun.
But it’s becoming increasingly clear that we are becoming dependent on these devices and processes. We forget where our food comes from. We crank out words, comments, opinion without so much as two seconds’ thought, or effort, required.
We no longer need to curate or restrict our own output: computers can handle the lot. It’s easy. Almost too easy.
And it’s also not as fun, or rewarding, as it could be.
The Good Old Days?
Have you ever had the pleasure of growing, then eating your own food? How did it feel to reach this pinnacle of achievement? To hold and taste the fruits (or vegetables) of your labours?
How about producing a fanzine by carefully choosing, snipping and pasting pictures and text together, then assembling the pages before pressing them into eager fans’ hands?
Do you remember taking your new digital camera on holiday, snapping 30,000 identical beach shots and then burying them in your PC never to be seen again?
It’s become too easy to produce, and the things we produce are too numerous, redundant, disposable, thought-free, forgettable, effortless.
We’ve lost the connection between what we do with our hands, and the product that comes out of it. We’ve forgotten the joy and satisfaction that comes with spending time on something, and making something that only we can make. That can only be seen or experienced in the original.
We’re here to remind you that it doesn’t need to be this way. People are rediscovering the joys of being close to the process of creation, and their efforts are unique, beautiful, idiosyncratic, time-consuming, educational and considered.
The worry that we no longer care enough about what we produce has a long and illustrious pedigree. Adam Smith described the division of labour in a pin factory:
One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head: to make the head requires two or three distinct operations: to put it on is a particular business, to whiten the pins is another … and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which in some manufactories are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometime perform two or three of them.
The problem was that no one person made an entire pin. No one saw the pin through its creation from start to finish, and so there was no pride in the creation. Thus begins the separation of a craftsman from his work.
Sure, productivity goes up, and that’s great. But products become generic, individuality of expression disappears, and your position in the workplace becomes… attaching pinheads to pins.
William Morris was another soul who was concerned about a craftsperson being reduced to a repetitive task, not knowing or caring about the outcome of his or her work. Morris championed ‘useful work over useless toil’ and made efforts in his life to champion useful work.
Unconvenient wants to encourage you to get to the heart of production, of creating, to see each stage in all its importance, and to take joy in a finished object.
Connecting the producers with the product
So the problem can be boiled down to the following points:
- Many of today’s products and tasks have been delegated to machines.
- These machines have shiny interfaces, and one-button operation.
- The products and processes they perform are generic, sterile, one-size-fits-all, dull, lifeless.
- We lose appreciation and wonder for things that deserve it. When we forget that 18 steps go into making a pin, we take it for granted. “It’s just a pin.” Even the most advanced household gadgets become mundane.
- We lack appreciation for how much effort used to go into making things, and how every word, every frame, every tonne, pound and ounce had to be considered.
- We’re flummoxed when something breaks or our machines are unavailable. How do you change a tyre? How do you check your spelling in a handwritten note? How long does it take to boil an egg?
And so, the solutions:
- Do things some yourself, for yourself.
- Get your hands dirty. Pull things apart. Grab a screwdriver!
- Get on the front line: do the research, use manual tools, do the long division, stretch your brain and your muscles.
I’m not advocating taking all your iPhones and washing machines to the tip, or retreating to the woods and communing with the pine cones. In fact, we’ll be including computers from time to time, sharing those tasks that are beautifully ugly, bare-boned, wiry and unpolished.
What we’re advocating is a break from the automated, distanced, done-for-you life we lead.
Talk to someone face to face. Scribble some notes in a diary or notebook. Cultivate a new appreciation of Michaelangelo’s David [Can you believe he made that without a 3-D printer? ;)].
So have a browse, or subscribe to get new posts as they arrive. There’ll be tips, instructions, case studies, equipment, discussion, bashed thumbs and the satisfying peeling of PVA glue from fingers. You may just be inspired.
You’re free to go.
As a final clue to our quest, a couple of those whom we admire, or feel aligned with:
If you can think of any more our readers might be interested in, do leave a comment!