Simple sustainable technologies focused on humans

Technology and art


We all like draw as children, but when we reach a certain age, we understand that our creative undergoings are not really valid, that being creative above a certain age is just a waste of our time, according to the adults. Some would outright tell us to stop doing it, others would take a more nuanced view and say that it’s all good if we continue, but only from time to time and only if we constantly remind ourselves that what we create is not real art. Real art, you see, is done with special type of paints, and by a special type of people - artists. Artists are very imaginative very smart and funny and most of them are very beautiful. They all have grown up under a very specific set of circumstances, studied in very special schools, had very special friends. In short, they are nothing like us.

Largely the same view is held for technology - we know it is created by an esteemed group of people, called engineers. They all studied years and years before they even started working. They all are smarter than us. They are professional. It is stupid, foolish, it’s even illegal to think you can do the work of an engineer yourself, so it’s better to refrain from doing it, even if it’s just for your personal usage.

And the interjection of those two small groups of people is an even smaller group that consists of the people who are both artists and engineers - that group and that group alone has the power to create technology that is both well-functioning and beautiful. We aren’t sure that this group even exists, because, after all, artists are very different from engineers (you know, the two activities actually use different halves of the brain). But even if people who are both artist an engineers really exist, one thing is for sure - they are certainly not like you. In fact they are so different from you, so better than you, that it is very hard for them to create art and technology that suit your needs. But you have to understand, in fact all of “ordinary” people have to understand that those who produce art and technologies are simply not able to fall at our level, so the only thing for us to do is to do our best to adjust and work with what we have.

Unless, all that I wrote up to this point is bullshit.

If we think about it, this gap between art and technology didn’t exist throughout most of history - the production of objects that are aesthetically pleasing (i.e. what we now call “art”), was just a type of craft, and the production of objects that serve various other purposes (i.e. what we now would call “technology”), were seen as other types of crafts. And there were many overlaps between the two - if you go to an antique art museum, you won’t see any paintings, sculptures or weird art installations on display, what you would see, instead, would be carpets, pottery, clothes etc. just ones that are very beautiful. And most of them wouldn’t be signed by their creators - that’s because people who created these works (whether they are works of art or of technology) weren’t perceived as extraordinary in any way, neither by themselves nor from the others. Art was just their job and some of them were just good at it. They were respected for their skills, but nothing more.

All this changed during the industrial revolution with the invention of manufacturing and the concept of division of labor. In order to produce objects at a faster rate, we “outsorced” different part of the process of production, first to unskilled workers, and then to machines. This worked, but the final result had strictly utilitarian purposes - it was no longer art. And so, we invented the concept of an artist as a person who’s job is to create art.

The difference between the two paradigms is huge: Before the industrial revolution, art was created by everyone and for everyone, after it, there was a designated group of people who were the only ones deemed worthy of producing it (e.g. before, people used to sing at parties and celebrations, now we hire a professional musicians to do this for us (or just play prerecorded music.))

Before people created art, just because they wanted there to be art. Nowadays, artists create in order to make a name for themselves, to make money etc. And same for technology - producing and maintaining it used to be an integral part of people’s lives, and now we are dependent on a small number of people to do it for the rest of us.

Some may argue that this would make the products of art and technology better, but for me the comparison is not appropriate - they are just different, different not only in terms of how and by who are they created, but in terms of the role they play in society.

With all that I am not trying to say that the products of the industrial technology are not valuable, but rather to say that the products of the old technology (the humane technology) are more valuable:

  1. Human technologies are were there first - industry is just copying the products that people used to produce by themselves.
  2. Products of human technology constitute not only mere technology, but art i.e. they help us make sense of our lives.
  3. Human technology makes humans independent.