high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Just so you know, this blog post was made from scratch

You....want....career advice?!!!
A couple days ago I started reading a book titled Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford.  The basic point of the book, if I'm interpreting it correctly after the first two chapters, is that society over time has developed an unreasonable aversion to work that falls into the categories of "crafts" or "skilled trades." While students are in high school, we promote college as the better path and discourage them from actively pursuing a basic trade, believing that life will be harder and less lucrative for them if they go into a trade.  But more recently people have started realizing that "knowledge jobs" are not as secure as once believed, and even worse, the individuals pursuing those careers find that they are not only unsatisfied at work, but woefully unable to be self-sufficient.  Crawford calls for a new look at manual work, and recognition of the fact that it can be satisfying, secure, and even lucrative.

Here are a few early passages from the book so that you can read some of Crawford's own words...

The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy.  They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth.

Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because you want to get it right.  In managementspeak, this is called being "ingrown."  The preferred role model is the management consultant, who swoops in and out and whose very pride lies in his lack of particular expertise.  Like the ideal consumer, the management consultant presents an image of soaring freedom, in light of which the manual trades appear cramped and paltry.

Locally sourced rippling forearms
It seems to me that Crawford's exhortation to value individual skills and their tangible results is being answered to some extent, in a slightly different context, in what I perceive to be a growing appreciation for goods that are not mass-produced off an assembly line, and for businesses that are not engineered to exact specifications so that they can be replicated elsewhere.  The Columbus-focused website Columbus Underground features, generally in a very positive light, the many local businesses and services available in the city, and the interesting people behind them.  While people want to know about the improvements made to a local grocery store, they also want to hear about - and really learn about - the latest small-scale market being set up.  There is a demand for things that have come about due to a real personal investment, for things with more of a story than just a unit number.  "Local sourcing," with it's more personal touch, is in.

Interestingly, mass-producers have recognized this trend, and have adapted their marketing strategy accordingly.  Marketers have tried to latch onto the idea of the personal investment of time in the creation of their products.  They don't want their goods to seem generic, made over and over again with no thought or passion involved, easily forgotten and easily replaced.  Thus it is that we have the increasing presence of "artisan" goods on the market.  For example, you can now get an artisan kitchen mixer, an artisan evening bag with rhinestone accents, and an artisan deluxe wooden backgammon set. And better yet, you can get them all in one place: at WalMart dot com.  Go ahead and check for yourself, just in case you are suspicious that I randomly came up with "deluxe wooden backgammon set" by myself.

Before getting too critical of marketers, it's important to look at what it actually means for something to be "artisan" in nature.  According to Merriam-Webster, an artisan good would be something produced in limited quantities, often using traditional methods.  Although I haven't done extensive research into the issue, intuition tells me that while you could argue the meaning of "traditional methods," the products available at WalMart at least fall short of the standard of "produced in limited quantities."

You know something is really artisan when you can poke it
The market for food products has also become ripe with "artisan" goods.  You can now get artisan bread, artisan cheese, and even artisan lettuce.  Now, you probably interpreted from some of the comments above that I believe the association of quality with things that are truly artisan in nature as being justified.  At the North Market in Columbus there is a place called Omega Artisan Bakery.  Their bread is good.  I have given them coin for their wares before, and was happy with the product I received.  Perhaps their bread is actually no better than a loaf you could get at the supermarket, but they can rightfully use the label of "artisan," and in my mind it is worth the extra money to buy from them.  In contrast, we now have artisan flatbread pizza courtesy of Dominos.  Sure, I'll get a Dominos pizza once in awhile, but I'm not going to pay an extra dollar to get the "artisan" pizza, because as far as I can tell, Dominos' definition of artisan is "rectangular."

Indeed, it is not clear to me why some products warrant the label of "artisan" while others do not.  But obviously everyone is taking the label, so this year when your family asks you what's for Thanksgiving dinner, make sure they know that the turkey and dinner rolls are being accompanied by artisan mashed potatoes, and get your due credit.

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