Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Still loving the old Fine WoodWorking magazines.

I'm still looking through back issues of Fine Woodworking from the mid 80's.

One of the things I've noticed that's no longer in the magazine is the snail-mail equivalent of a message board. Wood workers were looking for tips on sourcing parts, or tools, or wood, or hardware, in a dedicated section of the magazine.

It made sense to me that the section isn't there anymore, since this is something that most folks are able to do online now. But it made it clear that there was an existing community back then for wood workers to appeal to. And it was also clear from some of the entries that this was an attempt to reach out beyond what they had for local resources.

It was intriguing. I've talked to people online who have grown very used to being able to find answers immediately. There were a lot of questions in those old magazine sections, and in the reader's letters, from people who had tried to figure out their own answers, first, before writing. I don't see that as much online these days. It makes sense that people had to push through it in the old days. There was a long time between the moment someone puts a letter into the mailbox, and the moment when the editorial glacier deposits the answer back into their hands. Chances are pretty reasonable that they'd be waiting months... and anyone who wants to wrap up a project won't let it collect dust for that long unless they're really and truly stuck, and had to move onto something else in the meantime.

Side by side with this, there was a clear body of knowledge that existed. People were making tools that were pretty ingenious, and coming up with procedures that were pretty remarkable. AND, they were sharing them. I don't know if this is a result of the decline in middle-class manufacturing jobs, if this was a case of 'the way things were in the good old days,' or if CNC production has eliminated a wide body of skilled workers. Back when I was selling tools, I would have said it was just laziness...  I was astounded at how many people were simply convinced that every tool for any purpose had been created and marketed, and was surely just sitting on the shelf somewhere... But now I'm not so sure.

There's not really a moral or a lesson to this entry. But it does feel sometimes like the world is becoming something analogous to Tolkien's middle-earth, and that the wisdom of the elves has been leaving our shores.


upriver said...

James, I really enjoy your provocative posts and have little to add. I am just old enough (not quite 40) to have witnessed a different world of thinking and patience. I recall well waiting 6-8 weeks for mail order items, not to mention the weeks it took to pore over a catalog and decide on what to order, with no online review to guide me. It seems obvious that information was exchanged differently in this era, and those packets which were exchanged should be treated differently than something like a snippet from an email or blog today, because of the "ripening" you allude to. I don't have any answers or anything to add, other than that you are barking up a very prime looking tree, and I encourage your continued thoughts on the subject.

David said...

I appreciate this. When I started woodworking 20 years ago, I knew very little other than the mechanics of using a few hand tools, could not afford machines, didn't know there was Fine Woodworking out there... so I reinvented the dado and the dowel joint, and developed a love of using hand tools. I wonder, if I were starting now, whether I'd look on the internet, realize how much I didn't know and how far over my head I was in, and never get started.

JW said...


That's an interesting point.

In your case, since you had the gumption to move forward and figure it out as you went, I'd like to think you'd manage just fine. People who are interested enough to figure things out for themselves are different, I think, from the folks who are just copying answers from the back of the book.

This is a quote from Joi Ito, current head of the Media Lab at MIT, that (I think) addresses just the phenomenon you're talking about:

There’s so much information now that you can’t get any more information overload. Drowning in 10 feet of water isn’t any different than drowning in a million feet. And if you can swim, it doesn’t matter how deep the ocean is. At some level, once you realize you’re in water that’s too deep to stand, you have to have a very different approach, which is basically: Plans don’t work, mapping doesn’t work. You need a compass and a trajectory and some values to figure it out as you go along.

It's something I've been trying to wrestle with myself...