Thursday, September 9, 2010

Define "real work"

Last night, J and I went to a lecture at RIT by Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft. I read the back of the book when J bought it and was not sold. J was excited, though, so I went as a skeptic, trying to keep a relatively open mind.

First, the things that I DID buy.
- People have different skills, interests, and brains work different ways. We should not build an even remotely elitist system that might prevent people from pursuing careers they are passionate about. Vocational training can be as valid as a college degree.

- It's better for all around if you can land in a job that sparks your passion and helps you feel that you are doing something worthwhile.

Beyond that, I was insulted. J saw the points differently than I and I'll try to share his views here, but I'm really hoping he comments (nudge nudge) to spur discussion. There are 4 areas (2 major, 2 minor) that I totally disagree with and the enthusiasm of the packed room disturbed me a bit.
  1. Those of us who do not care to take apart washing machines, cars, or TVs when they break live in a state of "learned helplessness" - bereft of individual agency. Crawford also used "lack of responsibility" and, my favorite, "idiocy". To be a productive member of society, you should know every part of every device you own and how it works. - NOT ME! Sorry, I don't have an affinity for machinery and I would rather spend brain cells on other things that have a positive impact on my life and the world. It's just like those differences that send some to college and some to the trades...

    As a secondary argument to this, he cites the surge of interest in urban farming and craft as a search for compensating "self-reliance" or, as Crawford put it the "home-economics of Grandma". - NO. It's about creating and taking joy in that, not about being less dependent on others.

  2. Office work is not real work - only the trades are real work. Crawford would back away from this, saying that some office jobs are OK, then return to that dreadful phrase. - I do REAL WORK. My job may be frustrating at times, but I do cool stuff and creatively solve problems for our users and work to make their lives better, ultimately. Just because I sit at a computer or in meetings, don't assume I'm a drudge! You're just as biased against non-tradespeeps as you claim society is against the trades...

    At one point in the Q&A, after saying that college is fine if you have 4 years and the money to throw away, he urged a father to NOT let his son attend business school - "you'll never learn anything worthwhile there". Applause in the room as I repressed a bit of Hulk. Maybe B-school isn't valuable to everyone, but I am grateful for my time there - I had some great teachers and teammates who pushed me to my analytical and dot-connecting approach today.

J tends to take a broader perspective. That Crawford's main message is the one about fulfilling/ rewarding work. He feels that the principle can be applied to office workers just as much as to tradespeeps. I'd like to agree, but Crawford's turns of phrase were too negative, kept bringing it back.

What do you think? Is work done with your hands as part of a trade like plumbing, electrical, or mechanics more REAL than product development, marketing, social media? Has anyone read the whole book?

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