30 January 2016

humanizing the age of mass-production and consumption

Living out one's days in a highly mechanized, and increasingly digitize, uniformly mass produced - distributed - consumed cultural landscape tends to remove a person from the hand of those who made these things and made possible their availability and use in one's own livelihood and habits of thinking.

There are a few ways to restore some individual human presence in the infrastructure, furnishings, and elements we come to rely on, or at least to take for granted and regard as normal and unremarkable. One is to recite the series of steps from idea to final purchase or receipt of the product or service. For example, a car is invented and many varieties are designed for prototype before eventual production at full scale to fill widely scattered orders by builders, retailers and middle market (wholesalers). The mechanics of sourcing the ingredients and making machinery to stamp or pour or grind the product all involve individuals in this long chain of dependent steps. In auto making there are layers of subcontractors, for example. And each worker, manager, and artists has a social standing: name, family and friend networks, aspirations and histories. Some may have significant health challenges acute, chronic, just emerging, or now long past. Others may suffer financial burdens past, present or future. Beyond conceiving, designing, testing and making the thing, there are those who promote, deliver, and service the thing. So whether it touches the mind, the hands or the eyes of persons on the way to reaching the final consumer, there are many individual lives and biographical details that easily can be ignored or overlooked.

By contrast in the age of craftsmen and apprentices, the maker's hand or possibly mark, would be evident, and even when very nearly uniformly produced, no two are exactly the same to the degree that mass produced goods are today. And yet, even in our time, it is possible to imagine that objects comprising the daily cultural landscape all come from the minds and sweat of people. By restating the human touch, the things around us can again be given a human quality; a layer of anonymity can be stripped and living workers can be imagined present.

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