Craving the analog

Craving the analog
We live in an increasingly digitised age, we are all connected and seemingly the more connected we are the more successful we appear. This change has happened incredibly quickly, far faster than the change from rural to urban living during the industrial revolution. Whilst digital connectivity has many advantages it can also result in a feeling of lack of connection to the tangible world, the result is a desire to dig in the soil, swim in rivers, grow veg or make things with our hands, I call this a craving for the analog.
Here are a few current statistics about the degree of our connectivity
32million registered facebook users in England
There are more mobile phones in the UK than people
52% of UK mobile phone users have a smartphone
The number of smartphone searchers doubles every two months
28% of people in the UK have purchased something using their phone
On Mother’s Day 2012 – 50% of all online sales came from mobile devices
Smartphone sales overtook PC sales last year (two years earlier than expected)
My 16 year old son has more than 20,000 twitter “followers”
So we are all using mobile devices to connect, find information and shop more and more but alongside this there is that craving for the analog. The result has been a huge increase in, for example, the number of people keeping chickens, up from c50,000 to c750,000 in a decade. Allotment waiting lists are somewhat a barometer of the times. In the 1960’s demand fell as we all embraced factory food, in the 70’s the “Good Life” craze brought lengthening lists but by the consumerist 80’s many allotments were fallow and weed covered. Demand today is higher than ever with the average UK waiting list standing at 3 years and many London waiting lists over 10 years. Whilst TV is a passive medium and part of our digitised life the types of programs on it reflect society. So on the one hand we have a plethora of programmes showing life vicariously through reality TV and on the other we have a mass of programs about making stuff from cooking, to growing veg, to garden and home makeovers.
There has been a flurry of influential books from Richard Sennet’s “The Craftsman” which raised the status of working with our hands and popularised the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master a hand craft to Matthew Crawford’s “The Case for Working With Your Hands”.
As a traditional woodworker and chair of the Heritage Crafts Association I take an interest in the growth of craft programmes on TV and the increasing focus on making things. Creating things with your hands using simple raw materials seems to offer a great balance to our increasingly digitised lives. On TV we have had Kirsty’s home made home, Monty Don’s “Mastercrafts”, the Victorian, Edwardian and Wartime Farm series, Kevin McCloud’s Hand-made Home and Paul Martin’s Handmade Revolution.
Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in interest in the sorts of crafts that can be done as part of a busy lifestyle yet give that feeling of connection to a simpler life.
Mowing the lawn with a scythe rather than mower or strimmer is a delightful experience and a craft which takes time to learn and master, it also saves on gym fees. Spending a week living in the woods and making a green wood chair is an unforgettable holiday experience, basketmaking, leatherworking or silversmithing are great crafts to learn too. I teach the craft of carving wooden spoons, using three simple tools – an axe and two knives – and it can be done anywhere without need for a dedicated workshop space. We carve whilst sat around a campfire with friends, in the garden or in the kitchen. One past student, TV presenter Adam Hart Davies, carves on the train. I think the appeal lies in the taking a real raw material – a small branch freshly cut from the tree – through to a beautiful functional finished object in a relatively short time using simple tools. The use of our hand-eye coordination connected with our brains is after all what makes humans special and spooncarving seems to push us to use all those abilities to the full. It was a student on a spooncarving course who worked in a major London advertising design company who coined the phrase “craving for the analog”. I think people get the same connection to the tangible world through spinning, knitting, and cooking real raw ingredients. Similar to food there is increasing interest in where the raw materials come from. It is somehow much more fulfilling if you work with simpler tools and get closer to raw unprocessed materials.
I am far from a Luddite however, I embrace modern technology and enjoy connectivity. Through the power of the internet I am connected with greenwoodworkers world wide. I can learn the technicalities of toolmaking in seconds where it took me years of asking skilled craftspeople in Sheffield before. In a couple of weeks we will be enjoying SPOONFEST the second international celebration of the carved wooden spoon where 200 folk from 10 countries come to spend time carving together and sharing skills and inspiration. It would not have been possible without our modern digital connectivity yet we are celebrating the ultimate in analog activities.


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