Experiences #2: Miracles we have seen…

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Blog entry by TampaTom posted 02-23-2009 04:42 PM 1737 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: It's as plain as the nose on your face! Part 2 of Experiences series Part 3: My first woodworking experience »

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. – Niels Bohr

Y2K CrazyAhh, who can forget the heady days of late 1999? The dire predictions of mass hysteria as computer systems crashed around the world. Cults foreseeing the end of civilization and the beginning of the ‘end times.’ Economists hedging their bets on an economic collapse the world hadn’t seen since the Great Depression.

Imagine everyone’s relief when January 1, 2000 rolled around and the world didn’t go into the tank.

If you think the people in the late 1990’s were the first to make predictions of what the new millennium was going to look like, you’d be wrong. People have always looked ahead, based on their observations, and tried to foresee just what the future would be like.

I recently came across a .PDF of an article written in a 1950 edition of Popular Mechanics called Miracles You Will See in the Next 50 Years. Wow. This was some real Buck Rodgers kinda stuff. Rocket planes that scoot people across country in less that two hours. Shopping by video phone. Solar energy providing cheap, reliable electricity. A veritable bonanza of clean, efficient life in a technological wonderland…

Who am I kidding? The description of life in the year 2000 sounded soulless, sterile and – in many ways – frightening. Here are some of the predictions that made me stop and say, “huh?”

  • Cooking as an art is only a memory in the minds of old people. A few die-hards still broil a chicken or roast a leg of lamb, but the experts have developed ways of deep-freezing partially baked cuts of meat.
  • There are no dish-washing machines, for example, because dishes are thrown away after they have been used once, or rather put into a sink where they are dissolved by superheated water.
  • Discarded paper table ‘linen’ and rayon underwear are bought by chemical factories to be converted into candy. Yuck.

Doesn’t sound like a place where anything is too terribly permanent or personal. That carries through to the home and furniture as well:

  • Though (the house) is galeproof and weathterproof, it is built to last only about 25 years. Nobody in 2000 sees any sense in building a house that will last a century.

Later in the article, we see a cheery Mrs. Dobson hosing out the inside of her home – furniture included -to get that nasty dirt and ground-in grime out. The water and detergent disappear into the main central drain, a blast of hot air dries everything and the home is once again sparkling new.

Of course, none of these predictions have come to pass. However, in the 1950’s, we were sure that science would solve all of our problems. Plastics, mass production and advances in technology were supposed to eliminate all of the toil and hard work from our daily lives.

If that’s the case, why did woodworking survive, and why is it a thriving hobby for hundreds of thousands?

It turns out that we can find a historical analog. In the late 1800’s, the Industrial Revolution was changing the landscape everywhere. Mass production of everything was becoming the norm, and that included furniture. Factories could spit out ornate spindles and table legs at alarmingly fast rates, catering to the Victorian fashion sense of the day. Layers of ornamentation could hide shoddy or underbuilt joinery.

But, there were those who didn’t want to go along with the mechanized flow. In England and the United States, such notables as William Morris, Gustav Stickley and Edwin Lutyens were driving furniture design into a more craft, hand made aesthetic. Even though they used machinery for some tasks, the furniture spoke boldly to strong lines and the skill of the craftsman. Frilly ornamentation was abandoned nearly altogether in the Arts and Crafts movement, with the new style playing on exposed joinery as a design element.

These pioneers saw a different future than was being offered, and, today, their work is prized for its clean lines and bold showcasing of structure.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, there was a similar renaissance in woodworking. The counter culture movement was rejecting all things technological, and some very creative minds, such as Sam Maloof, James Krenov, Tage Frid , George Nakashima, Wharton Esherick and Art Carpenter came into their own. Magazines such as Fine Woodworking encouraged the average homeowner to try his or her hand in this time-honored craft.

This handbuilt school of design brought with it increased innovation to allow the inexperienced craftsperson to build custom furniture. David Keller perfecting the first through dovetail jig. Delta pushing innovation in table saws. The adaptation of new industrial joinery technology into the home workshop with such items as the biscuit jointer, pocket hole jigs and the Domino.

Not all of these innovations had shown themselves in high-tech tools. Companies such as Stanley and Record, who used to make the hand tools craftsmen relied on, were replaced by forward-thinking outfits such as Veritas and Lie Nielsen. The hand tools built there are, in many cases, an evolutionary leap above the old styles, and will serve their owners for generations to come.

This new rise of woodworking timed perfectly with the advent of the Internet. Today, many techniques, tools and materials are just a click away, and dozens of lively woodworking forums allow a free exchange of information to even the most far-away places.

So, technology has definitely provided a miracle of some sorts, even if it wasn’t exactly as envisioned back in the 1950.

-- Tom's Workbench -

3 comments so far

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 4048 days

#1 posted 02-24-2009 02:54 AM

Fun post Tampatom. Future predictions never come to pass and when we make them they are always based on current perceptions, which invariably end up wide of the mark.
The biggest problem with these predictions is they never take into account human nature and it,s this nature that can,t be pinned down and controlled by those who would have us eating off cardboard plates and dinning on recycled underwear candy. I think it,s the individual that drives the future and when enough individuals are moving in the same direction then change occurs. Stickley didn,t create the arts and craft movment on his own, there were many individuals before and after him, he was just a bridge between the socialist ideals of william morris and the uniquely American system of mass production that inevitably created a movement.
I wonder if Frid, Krenov and Nakashima ever really knew what they started. Are we seeing some of their spirit in the current boom of the home craftsman? only the future will tell, but i,m certainly not game to make any predictions
Mind you I think the hosing out the house idea might work, I,m sure plenty of single guys would go for that!

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 4520 days

#2 posted 11-01-2009 02:21 AM

Actually many of those predictions did come to pass. Some houses are built to only last until the next fashion trend makes it obsolete. Many people build beautiful kitchens which they don’t ever intend to use and don’t know how to use and I stayed in a hotel in France in the 90’s where the bathroom (ie: sink, shower and toilet) was exactly as you described the house. After using it, the door would lock and the entire inside would go through a wash, rinse and dry cycle and the water go down the drain in the middle. You self registered via a keyboard panel at the front door which activated with the swipe of a credit card and int he morning breakfast was served out of a machine in the cafeteria – everything was operated by entering your room number and password into a touch pad (including entering your room!). Not a human was seen running the place! So, it didn’t catch on though – why – because we’re fundamentally social beings and though the technology was cool, it felt cold and awkward.

I think for every push forward with technology there will be a push back to return to the simpler human meta values. 50,000 ( or 100,000 or whatever number you believe) years of human existence is no match for the 200 years of rapid technology advancement. We can’t evolve that fast and we are, at the root of it, still hunters and gatherers no matter what it looks like. We long to smell fresh air, look at trees, beaches, water, feel natural materials- it’s who we are.

And as long as that’s true there will always be cycles of technological advancement and renaissances of handcraft. I think the current collapse of our economic experimental system ( you just watch, it ain’t over yet) will swell the numbers turning to woodworking for various reasons and out of it will come a new elite of craftsman who represent the values of the day to lead the way for the next generation.

Interesting discussion- thanks for posting.

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View a1Jim's profile


117908 posts in 4183 days

#3 posted 11-01-2009 02:28 AM

I think of past future predictions now and then and somethings they are amazing how close they were and others are just plain funny.


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