Tuesday, October 10, 2006

good with your hands

In a remarkably insightful essay in the New Atlantis, where he is a contributing editor, former electrician and motorcycle mechanic Matthew B. Crawford explodes the notion that we're moving to a "workless world" in which nobody turns a screw or tightens a valve. But to my mind the most important, and interesting, point he makes is his withering analysis of the constant denigration of so-called manual labor--cast as thoughtless work for the brainless--and the enshrining of the white collar work of paper pushers--enshrined as mental gymnastics as though we developed stunning breakthroughs every day instead of forwarding emails and following factory-like prescribed routines.

The whole essay is worth reading, particularly if you've ever wondered what the hell you do all day between meetings and padding back and forth from your cube to the coffee machine, but also if you ever considered your carpenter, plumber or mechanic beneath you on the food chain. For you lazy bastards who -- even though you have sweet f-all to do -- can't be bothered to read a few hundred words, consider this passage:

"Much of the “jobs of the future” rhetoric surrounding the eagerness to end shop class and get every warm body into college, thence into a cubicle, implicitly assumes that we are heading to a “post-industrial” economy in which everyone will deal only in abstractions. Yet trafficking in abstractions is not the same as thinking. White collar professions, too, are subject to routinization and degradation, proceeding by the same process as befell manual fabrication a hundred years ago: the cognitive elements of the job are appropriated from professionals, instantiated in a system or process, and then handed back to a new class of workers—clerks—who replace the professionals."

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