Last week at Handworks I was privileged to finally try out some of Steve Voigt’s exquisite double-iron wooden hand planes. Last night (thanks to Instagram) I was able to read a post on his blog (about Instagram) that has given me some food for thought. Let that swirl around in your mind for a moment before reading on.
His post included this censure:
This post is not a direct response to the above sentiment. What I actually have to offer is something of a variation on the theme. Without biting the hand that feeds me (in a very real way) social media, like all forms of human interaction, does have its pit-falls. It can be enlightening. It can be damning. It can connect or isolate. It is not value neutral, but it is a tool and like any tool it can be wielded in ways that are productive or destructive. It is what you make of it.
You can do a lot with a chisel, and yet humanity felt it necessary to develop hand planes – effectively a jig to reliably and repeatably hold a chisel in the same position and control its interaction with the material to be worked. I am not suggesting that anyone needs to add more controls to social media. I am suggesting we each need to jig our souls in such a way that we use it productively. Sometimes this means calling it out and the words of the prophets are written on the Instagram walls.
Sometimes that means looking inward. There is a high level of risk and responsibility that goes along with a tool as powerful as social media. It can and will be misused. We each need to reckon with the influence we wield – great or small, intentionally or inadvertently. It shapes the community.
Yes, I used that word. Remove the sap and a community is any social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.
This distinction is what makes it valuable to most of us. It’s also what makes it dangerous – like high school. Humans are masterful at setting things apart.
When I was young, I went to church summer camp every year. I idolized the counselors. They were older, cooler, smarter and they got all the jokes. Later I returned to that same camp as one of them. Well, sort of. The cool kids were still the cool kids and I was still the new guy. It took me years to crack the inner circle, and after I had, I had almost no idea what that meant for the other new counselors coming on board. I did not always use my influence for good.
I am, by nature, the awkward kid sitting in the corner and after a while I realized that the inner circle was exhausting. It required constant maintenance – miss an opportunity to hang out and you didn’t understand any of the inside jokes the next time around. A month or two before Handworks I was questioning my motives for going. Was I flying all the way to Iowa because the cool kids were going to be there and I didn’t want to miss the inside jokes?
Steve Voigt caught some of the truth in his post. Real community is hard work. It is imperfect. It is full of possibility, but also full of challenge. It is never a cool kids club. It cannot remain virtual. I think the real wisdom came from a different part of the community, however, when Jared Tohlen responded (on Instagram) reminding us that: “Pursuing that “inner circle” is tempting but, ultimately, a fool’s errand.”
I cannot say it hasn’t been tempting. We all want to sit at the “cool kids” table, but when we are brave enough to sit at other tables (or visit the Millwright and Blacksmith shops) it turns out there are really cool people at those tables too.
I think I need to take a few weeks to think about all of this. I also need to take a few weeks to catch up on some writing and work on issue three of Mortise & Tenon magazine. That said, I’m going to seriously curtail my posting here and on Instagram for the next few weeks to do just that. (Oh, and to spend some time catching up on projects in the shop.) Call it a sabbatical if you like, but we all need times of rest. I’ll be back the second half of June. We’ll see if I have anything worthwhile to say.