I like to run. Specifically trails - the steeper, the better. Few things make me giddy like bombing down a rugged, mossy, meandering mountain path, or cresting the last rise before the summit and seeing the horizon burst into view. But as family and work obligations take precedent, almost all of my running takes place in the early morning hours. 5 a.m. is a lonely time, even in a place as predictably bustling as Acadia National Park in the summertime. I rarely see another soul.
What this means practically, though, is that when I happen across someone else out on the trails, I feel an instant connection with that person and the experience that we're both engaging. I want to stop and chat; I'm probably quite annoying. There is something intrinsically human about sharing effort, struggles, hard work, and in enjoying the reward of a task accomplished. We're not only wired to create, to strive, but to do so together.
Social media can feed into this impulse, for better or for worse. Taking the cynical view, one can see platforms like Instagram or Facebook as superficial means of self-promotion: a world of fake community and artificial avatars, where woodworking projects are presented in photoshopped perfection and my amazing breakfast omelette is studio-photographed. This can certainly be the case, and the stereotype of staring zombielike at your phone, thumbs sharing furiously on "social" media while ignoring all the real humans around you, is tragically common. But there can be real benefit here, too. I can't begin to number the folks who have told us of the inspiration they've received in following M&T online, and Joshua and I have received orders of magnitude more encouragement from people we'd have no chance of connecting with aside from this technology.
I was reflecting on this very fact during our Nicholson bench build with our new friend Robell, who hails from Georgia. While we worked, we discussed such weighty matters as barefoot running, the surpassing excellence of Ethiopian coffee, family life, even a bit of hand-tool woodworking... all thanks to a connection made via social media. I personally have stepped into uncharted waters (for me) in regards to pursuing different hand skills thanks to folks who know what they're doing and who generously share their knowledge through social media.
But we have to keep things real. Don't count your community in numbers of Instagram followers. Make every effort to meet folks face-to-face. Organize spoon carving get-togethers. Seek out your local craftspeople, and look for ways that you can help aspiring woodworkers nearby. Handworks 2017 was wonderful for me in this regard, being able to actually shake hands with people I knew vaguely from digital images. I can truly count some of those folks as friends now.
The fulfilling sense of community that comes through working together is the reason behind our building those huge workbenches. We have a vision of sharing our new space with handfuls of fellow woodworkers, generating massive piles of shavings while discussing the merits of single-origin coffee or double-iron planes. We want to grow this hand tool woodworking community in a way that's genuine, that's real.
With that in mind, come see us at the Lie-Nielsen Open House this coming weekend, July 7th and 8th! It is a terrific opportunity to connect with fellow craftspeople and to check out skillful demonstrations and really, really cool tools. Hope to see you there!