The New York Times has an article up that states something I’ve been griping about for a while, the dying art of craftsmanship in the United States:
THE scene inside the Home Depot on Weyman Avenue here would give the old-time American craftsman pause.
In Aisle 34 is precut vinyl flooring, the glue already in place. In Aisle 26 are prefab windows. Stacked near the checkout counters, and as colorful as a Fisher-Price toy, is a not-so-serious-looking power tool: a battery-operated saw-and-drill combo. And if you don’t want to be your own handyman, head to Aisle 23 or Aisle 35, where a help desk will arrange for an installer.
This isn’t a lament — or not merely a lament — for bygone times. It’s a social and cultural issue, as well as an economic one. The Home Depot approach to craftsmanship — simplify it, dumb it down, hire a contractor — is one signal that mastering tools and working with one’s hands is receding in America as a hobby, as a valued skill, as a cultural influence that shaped thinking and behavior in vast sections of the country.
Among my friends I’m a fairly rare bird, I have a toolbox with a vast selection of tools and the knowledge required to use them. When something of mine breaks my first reaction isn’t to take it in for repair, instead I attempt to repair it myself. I perform all of the maintenance on my mountain bike even though such things are still covered for another six months (my reasoning is that I can learn to do it now and not have to worry about it in the future). When the derailleurs need to be adjusted I adjust them, when a new brake cable needs to be installed I install it, and when the chain needs to be cleaned and oiled I clean and oil it. Most of my friends who have bicycles choose to take their bikes in for every minor repair. The same goes for automobiles. My father is a top-notch mechanic and has been running his own shop for decades. While I’m nowhere near as skilled as my father I am skilled enough to perform most of the required maintenance on my truck, which I do.
Being able to work with your hands is incredibly valuable. The amount of money you can save by fixing your own equipment is well worth the time required to learn the necessary skills in my opinion. Such knowledge also grows rapidly because things you learn to do one task make it easier to learn another (many things become intuitive).
It’s an interesting article that is worth a read through.
3 thoughts on “The Dying Art of Craftsmanship”
There is also a lot to be said of embracing the division of labor and using your time for more valuable things (be it things that can earn you more, or things that you just value more than the satisfaction of doing it yourself (which can be somewhat of a reward)).
I do like working with my hands but I also like having practical skills. If my bike breaks down while I’m on a ride I can easily get it going again (unless something major is damaged) myself and get home with the skills I have learned. I find practical skills become very valuable when you need to at unexpected times.
People who have fix-it skills can repair things themselves or pay someone else to repair an item. People without the skills can only pay for others to do what often can be a simple task.
Having the skills allows you to be aware of the quality of another’s work, the safety of an item needing repair, and to make an educated decision about what and when repairs are needed.
In my opinion, rarely is a learned skill left unused for life.
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