Recently I attended the inaugural planning meeting for the Danbury Hackerspace. During the inevitable “why are you here” discussions, I stumbled through some impromptu thoughts on the subject, but I’d like to flesh out my thoughts here.
I spent the first 10 years of my life on a small farm. My father also spent his first 10 years on the same farm, but in the depths of the Great Depression. The echos of that experience reverberated throughout my own childhood. But I’m not talking about poverty or starvation, but rather about the resourcefulness and creativity of my ancestors in a situation where every commodity was precious; where, if you wanted something, you often had to make it yourself; if something broke, you had to fix it rather than throw it away and buy a new one. Many materials, which today would simply be thrown in the trash, were saved and reused in creative ways.
For example, I remember using a tool which was essentially a dowel, with a slit cut in it, and half of a large coffee can lid bolted in place and sharpened. We called it the “corn cutter” which is just what I used it for. My grandfather didn’t have the luxury of throwing away that scrap dowel and that tin can, and driving down to Home Depot to buy a machete. Another example is seen on the right: a toy top my grandfather made out of a spool of thread.
James Kunstler has said in his podcast that we are no longer a culture where people make things. On some level we, as a culture, decided it would be better to sell each other mortgage-backed securities than to actually make things. So we spent the last several generations forgetting all the skills our ancestors needed to simply live their lives. I am sure that I could come up with a long list of skills my grandparents had which I know nothing about. This becomes apparent to me as I try to maintain my own house and garden; I keep running into problems which I know that they must have solved.
Now it is true I, and others of recent generations, have a variety of skills which my ancestors utterly lacked. However, depending on how peak oil plays out, many of those skills could be irrelevant. When we lost power last year, my ability to program a computer suddenly became moot in the face of trying to ensure my family had water. So, we might all be facing the prospect of suddenly having to relearn these lost skills.
My daughter is now 3 and a half years old and, as every parent does, I have my collection of hopes and fears for her future. I want her to grow up in a world where people make things, where people help each other; not in a world where all things, even people, are disposable, and everybody just waits for someone else to fix things.
The recent hackerspace movement, and the possibility of getting one set up in the neighboring city, gives me some hope. If you’re in the vicinity, come to the next meetup; lets get this thing off the ground.