Saturday, April 19, 2014

"We've always done it this way..."

You should share my reliance on those old, old truths which shallow, drawing-room talk contemptuously dismisses as "commonplaces", though they have more marrow in them, and are quite as seldom wrought into the mental habits as any of the subtleties that pretend to novelty.
Marian Evans (George Eliot)
via Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind

We love the new, the shiny, the splashy, next big thing.

When we focus on the newest tech tool, we can let go of the harder questions. We can bask in the light of the new while quietly ignoring the mess we've left behind. We focus on the bright green foliage at the edge of the cesspool.

When we focus on the newest tech tool, we confuse the surges of adrenaline and dopamine we get from novelty with the warm satisfaction of working our way towards wisdom. The tool becomes the truth.

I love tools--I've used a drill, a mallet, a cross-cut saw, a measuring tape, a socket wrench, and a wheel barrow all within the last few hours to build a raised garden bed to grow vegetables that we plan to harvest with our hands.

The point is, literally, the fruit of our labors.

That anyone uses the "we've always done it this way" as a defense for a particular practice strikes the technophile crowd as galling, and on the face of it, I agree. The more interesting question would be why has it "always" been done this way? Does it work?

I am trying a raised bed for the first time this year, but I will not know if it is an improvement until I see the results in late summer. I've invested some time and money in the effort for something that I know works for many, but has never been tried on this particular patch of land here in my backyard.

I will still bury my beans one knuckle deep, as I have always done. I will still use jute twine to hold up the vines, as I have always done. I will still mix some compost and aged manure into the earth, as I have always done.

My goals have not changed--I want to eat fresh basil and sun-warmed tomatoes within an hour of harvest--and I use tried-and-true ways for obvious reasons.

The art of educating human larvae may have lost its way--these things happen when crowds wander around aimlessly without a consensus on the destination. The high tech crowd keep selling us marvelous GPS devices that do everything they promise to do, and we keep mindlessly buying them, hoping to reach our destination quicker.

Unless you know where you want to go, you're never going to get there.

I'm not as much anti-tool as I am pro-mindfulness.


John Spencer said...

I love this post -- especially the concept of questioning the reasons why "that's how we've always done it."

I'm not interested in building another Astrodome. I'd like to see what we left behind when we razed Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds.

doyle said...

Dear John,


Interesting that the newer ballparks are looking to the older designs.

Turns out not everything works best in utilitarian finery.