Good!? Old Days

March 24th, 2014 by Richard Burman

I am trying not, in the Working Hands Project, to romanticize the past. Not to lament about trades that have disappeared or how things were so much better back (when?). On the other hand, recognizing the past is important. The advancements in this era did not come out of a vacuum. This generation does not have a monopoly on good ideas. The way we do things now is built upon what we have done in the past.

When I watched this video I was both saying YES!! and rolling my eyes at the same time. What we have learned about lead paint and other unsafe practices is valuable and modern protocols based on this knowledge do save lives. What we have lost is a physical engagement with the world that is based on discovery, trial and error, calculated risk and interactive fun. What we do have instead is the potential for endless and bottomless consumption. This has never been part of our human makeup. The disconnect we have with our hands goes against the way the body and the brain have evolved.

The blogs I write sometimes come out of articles or videos I come across at a particular point. It can also come from what I am doing at the time. For example I have been trying to redesign a camera slider which I had made but there were some problems. This undertaking has taught me a few things; bouncing ideas off other people helps a lot, giving time and letting a new idea or approach reveal itself and finally just try something out, no matter how far-fetched it is. In my case I was uncertain how to secure an angle iron to a cross piece. I tried one idea which was not very solid. I looked carefully to see why it was unstable and then I saw where the weakness was coming from. The solution is now much closer.

The freedom and adventure that was a normal part of a day for the boys and girls in the above video is an approach to life that we can all benefit from. Instead of a “Maker Culture” the dominant fashion is that of consumption, something that builds up and eventually blocks the arteries of our imagination. If I had to write a synonym for “Maker Culture” it would be “Try It Out Culture” or “Take a Risk Culture” or “Make a Mistake Culture”. That last synonym has special meaning for the author of the article “Great Moments in Building Science“. He recounts to his reader some of the real whopper mistakes he has made in his career. He believes we learn better from our failures than from our successes. The article was sent to me by Jon Eakes who is a communicator in the field of home renovation. Jon knows I have tried a few experiments in my home with varied levels of success.

The topic of the documentary trailer above is also the topic of a wonderful feature article from “The Atlantic”. The Overprotected Kid explores our preoccupation with safety which according to  the author has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. She then describes a new kind of playground which looks a lot like like an abandoned dump. It is located in Wales and her own son goes there to play. She considers this concept a better solution.

I wrote another blog last year called “Playful Imagination“. Nice to see it is possible to put the play back into PLAYTIME.

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