I started a project in 2010 to rebuild my BMW R75/6 motorcycle with 103,000 original owner miles. I wanted to get back to tacit knowledge derived from doing it myself as most of my working day is spent in what has euphemistically come to be called “Knowledge” work.
Prior to that, I was reading articles on the hand/mind connection, the plastic brain, learning and the value of tinkering . Tinkering for kids comes in two varieties. you can tinker with stuff (inanimate objects) and you can engage in unsupervised play (animate objects), and both seem to be missing for today’s children. I’ve come to separate learning into two kinds: abstract, or “Knowledge” learning where the animate and inanimate objects (people, things, materials, etc.) are purposely left out, and “Experience” learning where the objects are kept in and you are confronted with the cussedness of inanimate objects and the irrationality of motives.
I ended up subscribing to a magazine, Make which has a number of do it yourself (DIY) projects. I stumbled across articles in The Denver Post about a tool lending library that operates like a public library, and an inventor’s workshop where you can pay a flat fee for access to a large variety of tools and shop space to work on projects. And just today, I came across a video from TED about Marcin Jakabowski, an ex PhD in physics who decided his formal education as a Knowledge worker was “useless” and became a farmer. From the hands on experience, he identified the 50 basic machines that support our civilization. Then he decided to build them in a DIY fashion publishing the blue prints, material list and cost estimates so others can do the same. An additional goal is to store all the information on a single DVD. Very interesting.
I see the beginning of a movement back toward experience-based tacit knowledge that comes from DIY thinking. In many cases, the people who are DIY evangelists were fully invested in the mythos of the knowledge worker as the highest and best use of humanity but in practice found it to be hollow.
This raises a question about living a good life and if abstract knowledge alone really provides it. I’ve had a growing sense that the lack of wisdom evident in many sectors of society may be correlated to the growing number of people who never tinkered with real things as part of their education. I use “education” in the broad sense so it is not unnaturally constrained by what happens to you in school. I see resumes in the tech sector from people who spend 1-2 years doing something and then move on. How can you really have experience, let alone wisdom, from that short a time doing anything that is meaningful? You hardly had time to fail spectacularly and figure out how to assimilate that experience, and its those kinds of experiences from which wisdom comes.
I have another perspective on knowledge workers vs. experience workers. I think there are two important contributors to the global problem of sustainability and throw-away culture (aka, things). I’m interested in how to change the throw-away “things” pattern underpinning the first world economy.
As a kid growing up in the 50′s, products were built to last a long time and ease of repair was an important part of industrial design. For those of a “certain age”, remember Sears and the spare parts available for just about everything they sold? They did that because DIY was alive and well in the 50′s due to the shared experience of the Great Depression by the majority of their customers.
I suspect that if we looked in detail at the difference in “carbon footprint” between a “Design For Throwaway” (DFT) and “Design For Repair” (DFR) economy, the DFR model would demonstrate a dramatic reduction. (I’d be interested in references to any research along these lines.) I wouldn’t be surprised to find that a DFT culture reinforces an education model that teaches a rubric where an abstract knowledge worker is superior to a pragmatic experience worker. In fact, I think nothing could be farther from the truth.