We’ve probably all heard this phrase before, but it’s admittedly becoming harder and harder to live by. For example, if you need to change the formatting of your laptop’s hard drive so you can update your MacOS to the latest version and you want it done right, do you do it yourself? (Some will say yes. I’ve been putting it off for months.)
Our “somethings” used to be simpler. Vehicles, for example, had adjustable carburetors, few electronics, and most anything wrong with them could be fixed on a warm Saturday under a shady tree. My first car was a 1984 Dodge Caravan (the first minivan ever!) that my parents had purchased new, and I inherited it with 168,000 miles on the clock. It was simple enough for a teenager with a Sears socket set and a Chilton manual to tinker with, and the ol’ classic managed another 130,000 miles before calling it quits. I’ve heard enough horror stories from friends about massive repair-shop bills for simple operations, or having unnecessary work pushed by make-a-buck mechanics, that I remain grateful for that early initiation into the greasy world under the hood. If you want something done right, do it yourself.
Quite the sweet ride.
But I’d be lost working on a brand-new vehicle. Every particular make and model requires specific software to diagnose problems, there are more sensors in the engine and exhaust than you can shake a stick at, and once-analog functions (the throttle, the brakes) are now managed by a computer. Some new cars don’t even have oil dipsticks. The ability to “do it yourself” has been removed from the hands of the owner and placed solely within the purview of the specialist. And every year, as cars get cushier and more feature-laden (entertainment centers, onboard vacuum cleaners, self-driving capabilities), the situation becomes inescapable.
I think of handcraft as an analog analogue (if you will), a means of production more personally appealing than the creeping realm of digital technology, mass-manufacture, and specialization. Companies will try to sell you those “must-have” items and industrially derived soulless products that modern life calls for. But we don’t have to buy it. Having hand skills means we can do it for ourselves, in a way that is beautiful and maintainable.
Getting it done, age two.
In the next few weeks, I’m going to be writing about the choice to pursue this kind of personal agency from a couple different perspectives – economic, social/community, etc. – trying to think practically about how we might make a positive difference in the world by doing things ourselves.