Spiritual Audacity

Saving Our Own Humanity, One Stitch at a Time

Mary Cassat, Young Woman Sewing in Garden
Tim Wu draws attention to the role of DIY in expressing our humanity:

Convenience technologies supposedly free us to focus on what matters, but sometimes the part that matters is what gets eliminated. Everyone knows that it is easier to drive to the top of a mountain than to hike; the views may be the same, but the feeling never is. By the same logic, we may evolve into creatures that can do more but find that what we do has somehow been robbed of the satisfaction we hoped it might contain.

The project of self-evolution demands an understanding of humanity’s relationship with tools, which is mysterious and defining. Some scientists, like the archaeologist Timothy Taylor, believe that our biological evolution was shaped by the tools our ancestors chose eons ago. Anecdotally, when people describe what matters to them, second only to human relationships is usually the mastery of some demanding tool. Playing the guitar, fishing, golfing, rock-climbing, sculpting, and painting all demand mastery of stubborn tools that often fail to do what we want. Perhaps the key to these and other demanding technologies is that they constantly require new learning. The brain is stimulated and forced to change. Conversely, when things are too easy, as a species we may become like unchallenged schoolchildren, sullen and perpetually dissatisfied…

In our times, D.I.Y. enthusiasts, hackers, and members of the maker movement are some of the people who intuitively understand the importance of demanding tools, without rejecting the idea that technology can improve the human condition. Derided for lacking a “political strategy,” they nonetheless realize that there are far more important agendas than the merely political. Whether they know it or not, they are trying to work out the future of what it means to be human, and, along the way, trying to find out how to make that existence worthwhile.

(Image: Woman Sewing in a Garden by Mary Cassatt via Wikimedia Commons)