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Questioning the synchronicities and juxtapositions between life, design, and the way we look at the world.

Singularity vs. The Craftsman

I know some of you out there just HATE the very word "singularity." But for a second, forget your distaste of trendy, intellect-flaunting memes. Instead, pull up a chair, crack open a book - or in this case, two - and ponder a serendipitous juxtaposition.

Two widely different theses are stuck in my head, begging for a way to be brought together in harmony. The source is two books circulating our studio at the moment: Raymond Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology" and Richard Sennett's "The Craftsman."

Thesis 1/The Singularity: Think of the singularity simply as the idea that digitally enhanced intelligence (ours) is becoming exponentially stronger, exponentially quicker. Before you wrinkle your nose, consider: how would you work - creatively, socially, temporally - if you didn't use "computers" and everything that term encompasses (the web, mobile, Wikipedia, social networks, surfing, blogs, etc.)? I'd say that in the last ten years each of our personal capabilities has been exponentially enabled by our digital tools. In other words, you've already incorporated the web into your brain as part of your intelligence, part of your reach, part of your skill and talent. You could work without it, but why would you? You can do so much more WITH it.

Thesis 2/The Craftsman: Contrast the implications of the singularity to the concept of craft. Think of craft not as "crafty" or "handmade," but rather about skill, attentiveness, problem solving, commitment, and art + intelligence together. Consider that becoming an expert at a physical task (like playing an instrument, being a carpenter or a professional athlete) takes 10,000 hours of practice. Think about how our culture has forced the separation of "the head and the hand," not only through devaluing manual labor and over-valuing intellectual, white collar work; but also how capitalism, competition and forced processes reward results over quality. In your own work, think about how using a computer takes you away from the hand/head practice of putting pen to paper and going back and forth between a creative, meditative state and a thoughtful, problem solving state and instead (sometimes) allows for easy, pre-fab answers and processes.

So in my view, the singularity is just a fact of life: it's already here and you've already embraced it, whether you realize it or not. At the same time, craft and skill is a beautiful part of human nature that likely won't be replaced by machine intelligence. So the question is not which one is right or wrong, but how do they exist together?