If you Google “How to make beer,” you can get 211,000,000 results in under 60 seconds. Walking around any bookstore it is almost impossible to not sight a book on how to make anything from scratch: beer, butter, candles – you name it. The internet now is filled with resources like Instructables.com, DIY Network and other sources of Do It Yourself content. Having hobbies is great, but why are thousands of people spending time, money and resources on crafting things from scratch that could be easily bought? We took hundreds of years to develop factories that transform wheat grains into delicious cold pressed beer, served in little metal cans that you can easily dispose of for a fairly accessible price. They can be conveniently found on a giant warehouse (i.e. your local grocery store) just down the block from your home. That sounds way easier than mixing hops and malts, boiling and waiting two weeks for things to ferment. So what’s the hype?
The Arts and Crafts movement originated in Britain by the end of the 19th century and quickly made its way west, lasting roughly until World War I. Fueled by the early ideals of Socialism, it focused on teaching factory workers traditional craftsmanship using simple forms, with medieval or folk aesthetical themes. The movement sought to empower workers who could not achieve any personal satisfaction in turning knobs and tightening screws in mills and plants, or even afford the products they made. The issue was no one in America wanted to buy handmade baskets and other knickknacks made by exhausted factory workers, so the movement didn’t last long. Plus, work and life balance was only beginning to be a discussion, and most of the population couldn’t afford leisurely activity due to extremely long hours and the lack of something we now have: Convenience Technology.
In a world of instant mashed potatoes, ramen noodles and automatic coffee makers, we have developed biological atrophy, as suggests Tim Wu in his New Yorker article. Trapped in making thousands of small easy tasks, (clicking a button for coffee, boiling water for noodles, replying to hundreds of quick emails) we have an ever growing anxiety to do to more and complete things start to finish. Making your own meals (from buying the ingredients, to choosing a recipe and so on) always feels more rewarding than just heating up a frozen TV dinner. Not only it is more rewarding, but most importantly it’s required to our own personal development. The human brain needs to be challenged in order to learn and evolve. Ever had an issue that you worked tirelessly on (a tool you couldn’t figure out, a math exercise) and couldn’t feel at ease until it was completed? That’s your brain at its finest. Most people would claim that, after family and dear ones, the one thing they love the most is some sort of tool or skill-set like gardening, roasting coffee, golf or painting. Our species is in its current state precisely because of our love for tools, skills and improving on them. In the past, the survival of a group depended on the ability to master the environment, with tools and objects that require skill and practice. Being able to do everything with low effort is certainly great and can’t be stopped, but it doesn’t allow us to develop skills the way we’re naturally used to – reason why more and more people turn to things like beer brewing, building robots or woodworking. Not because they need to build a closet out of sheer necessity, but because it improves their self-worth and well-being.
Now for the disclaimer: We don’t have to go full on 1700’s and start churning our own butter. Convenience is great. Being able to just heat up some food after a long day of work can be just what you need sometimes – and that’s great. Just make sure you use your most valuable resource (a.k.a time) doing something you enjoy and that might benefit you somehow. Some people even turn their odd hobbies in full time roles, selling handmade stuff online and making money on platforms like Etsy. Some even claim that these people will fuel the third industrial revolution: A totally de-centralized, company-less system, run by small groups of people who fully own the production process and tools. Sounds crazy, but the “maker” movement is here, and it doesn’t seem like they want to stop creating. So maybe this weekend you can pick up that shelf that’s been sitting on the garage for so long instead of just sitting by the TV – you might learn a thing or two.
Image: The Townsends Blog