A.I. will never fully supplant the Bespoke

Updated 1 year ago

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Have you ever had a bespoke suit custom made just for you, in Savile Row in London, or in the Thai workshops, and realized that machine-made suits feel robotic and barren?

Have you ever been to a winery or brewery and drank the Chimay, wine, or beer right at the source, and lamented, why doesn’t store bought drink “feel” this way?

Have you ever felt that wistful sense of emptiness with social media as a poor replacement for “inefficient” but genuine personal interaction?

Have you ever wondered why the tech elite don’t let their children near smartphones or computers?

Have you ever felt that the bountiful cornucopia of downloading limitless free MP3s just do not replicate the warmth of buying vinyl at a STORE and going home and putting on the needle?  Or marvelled at casssettes?

For The First Time In Decades, People Bought More Vinyl Than CDs Last Year

Have you ever played a streamlined modern game, where your hand is firmly held with waypoints, but miss the old clunky primitive games that nevertheless had polished gameplay, and if online, people weren’t strangers, and you made friends that could last a lifetime? Why are your favorite memories when you were a noob running around like an idiot – not the end game where you have damage meters and rankings?

Why are there still horse carriages in Central Park?
Why do peanuts from the can taste less good than peanuts you peel by hand?

I don’t think any of this is just mere nostalgia. It’s all because we unconsciously feel the care that went into it, and that makes it special. This dopamine is hardwired to our brains; but it’s not just neurological – it also affects actual quality. A Japanese craftsman perfectly elucidates this below – and think about how the same dynamic applies to AI. Yes it is fast, easy, and automated – but something is lost in the bargain, Automation does not automatically make it better.

There will be a use case, time, and place for every tool. New tools at their best make luxuries available to the masses that were previously available only to the elites and the deal-seeking hipster epicurians. Our toolbox just keeps growing, and we all benefit.

Toshio Enhanced

The Human Nuance in Woodworking

by Toshio Odate

During the period of our last generation, when I was still a young apprentice, neatly and tightly fit joinery was one of our main concerns. To accomplish this type of work, we had to complete long and strenuous years of training. Even after becoming a mature craftsman, one would always put serious efforts into executing the joinery. Today, for the sake of time and convenience, people without much training use jigs, gadgets, and power tools to become tradesmen. Because of the involvement of high technology, people’s attitudes toward woodworking have changed to the point where they often ignore the value and capability of the human hand. Woodworkers have become far too dependent on machines and gadgets that are fast and easy. This trend- -this manner and attitude of using too many machines and gadgets–disassociates the end result of the work from the “human touch.”

When looking at cabinets or furniture made in previous eras, most exude an organic feeling. But many of these objects made today seem cold. They look as though they were just made for practical purposes. Of course, the last generation also aimed at accomplishing work for practical purpose; however, they mainly used hand tools to do work. Why was an organic emotion more reflected in their woodworking?

The arm, hand, and tool work just like a flexible shaft, chuck, and bit. The arm can be moved into very intricate positions and placed within very minute intervals. In fact, there is no shaft more flexible than the arm. The hand also can be seen as a universal chuck or joint. The tool, then, is the bit and is held by the chuck perfectly. However, this wonderful mechanism is very much a tool in itself, manipulated by knowledge, experience, and wisdom. The human body conducts and expresses whatever an individual has in his heart and mind. With anger in the heart, one walks differently. When happy, one talks differently. Therefore, the craftsmanship or skill is achieved in the heart and mind of the individual. The heart and mind accumulate virtually an infinity of information-some necessary, some not-from past and present. This becomes the craftsman’s knowledge and experience.

A great craftsman knows how to select the necessary information, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unconsciously. The arm, hand, and tool conduct and express the values that the heart and mind have accumulated. Whether slicing a log or cutting into a mortise, the combination of information and energy always changes, and the outcome will never again be exactly the same. However, great craftsmen try their best to compose every situation according to the highest standard. When an accomplished woodworker, for example, cuts a series of dovetails, they’re all slightly different. But all are clean and snug. The slight differences are so delicately fine and the whole exhibits such a clean tight fit that it creates an organic emotion.

Some people call this “vibration,” while others say “craft sensibility.” I call it “human nuance.” The elements in the completed work include the craftsman’s pride, concern, love, warmth, sincerity-all familiar traits of human sensitivity and emotion. Often these elements are not apparent to our eyes, but we are very much capable of feeling their richness. These are simply the by-products of an accomplished craftsman’s handwork.

A great Japanese plane blade maker, Chiyozuru Nobukuni, broke with tradition and incorporated machinery into his work. Then, when he produced a great blade, he said, “Today, many manufacturers use machinery to produce tools, but they do so only because the process is faster, easier, and cheaper. The result is a product that does not demonstrate quality.” Nobukuni learned much from his great master, but he also enhanced that knowledge with the work of scientists and scholars. Because he had great attainment in his heart and mind, he could use large machines as an extension of his body, just as if he were holding a small chisel in his hand.

Without this achievement of wisdom and skill that springs from heart and mind, a machine does nothing but a practical procedure. Therefore, you cannot find or feel the human touch anywhere in the product.

When you understand these elements, then you also understand that woodworking is not only a matter of clean, tightly-fit joinery, but a way to add richness to your work–like rich soil adding nutrition to food.”

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