We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us. – Marshall McLuhan
I am not fond of gardening.
Gardens are nice to sit in when everything is tidy and the lawn is cut but, when it’s not, they remind you in silent reproach that it’s all your fault and you should do better.
There is a tree in front of our house, a large ash, and every autumn it deposits all its leaves with no apology on our garden.
Now, I would much rather be curled up with a book or stood at my computer reading or writing than almost anything else.
The keyboard is a tool I’m comfortable with. I know its parameters and its limitations. I learn more every day I write.
A rake, on the other hand, is much more problematic.
So, today I offered one of the small people that lives with us an opportunity to go to the cinema.
He said no.
I tried to bribe him, with popcorn and ice-cream and juice.
He still said no.
Exasperated, I said we couldn’t just sit in the house. If he didn’t want to do anything we’d just have to go out and rake leaves, expecting that the cinema would suddenly become more appealing.
Except it didn’t. He ran excitedly for his wellies and we then spent the next hour raking and sweeping leaves. You’d think it was the best thing he’d done all week.
And then he said ‘when I grow up daddy, I want to be a sweeper, just like you.’
The point, I suppose, is that whatever you do becomes your business.
I was at a networking event a few years ago and the keynote speaker was someone who had built her cleaning business from scratch into an operation now employing hundreds of people.
You could be forgiven for assuming that a rake is less complex than a computer and that one skill is worth more than the other but the fact is you can make money from both.
We know that work in the future that people do will be of two types: creative work, that needs imagination and insight; and dexterous work, making use of our hands to do things robots can’t.
The rest will be done by the machines. Unless, of course, you can’t afford one.
Then again, that might not happen at all.
William Gibson wrote: The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed. A quote much loved by the technocrats who’d like to shape us to fit their world.
What happens, however, is that whatever technology you choose then has an impact on what you do.
And, in many parts of the world, it feels like people are turning to technology that helps them be more human, like bicycles and cloth bags and recycling bins.
No one has ever had much luck predicting how the future is going to look.
It could be one where we’re all immersed in augmented reality and the majority of interaction is through a machine, or it could be one where we’re better informed, better connected and better people.
Who still probably have leaves to rake when we’d much rather be writing.