Rags of Light

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Cal Newport on The lost satisfactions of manual competence:

There’s great fulfillment in applying skill to slowly create something useful that didn’t previously exist — a reaction that’s likely embedded in our genes as a lost nudge toward survival-enhancing paleolithic productivity. Matt Crawford perhaps summarizes this reality best in Shop Class as Soulcraft, when he writes: “The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy.”

And then we consider our current moment.

For most “non-essential” workers, the past two months have delivered a professional experience that’s exactly the opposite of Fred Hauser running a metal lathe in his California garage. Instead of manifesting ourselves concretely in the world, we endlessly pass digital messages back and forth, taking breaks only to talk to each other about these messages over cramped video conference screens.

Before the pandemic, the ritual of traveling to a physical office helped obfuscate the disembodied nature of most knowledge work. But when this element was stripped away, the intrinsic abstraction of our efforts became impossible to miss. Fred Hauser ended his spring with a working four-stroke engine. We’ll end ours with an email inbox fuller than when we began.

(emphasis added)