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why 'quick and easy' rather than 'slow and difficult'?  RSS feed

 
Judith Browning
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This seems to come up all the time out there in the 'real' world. People are wanting to learn crafts that are 'quick and easy'. Making anything....food, a painting, learning to weave...........the phrase 'quick and easy' is used to describe them as though that was the attraction.
My husband gets this a lot as an interpreter of different wood working areas in the pre-industrialized period in the Ozarks...which is also just where he is at anyway with his craft, no acting involved.
He has many visitors to his shop who tell him how he could do this or that task much faster if he had a certain tool, usually involving a lot of POWER ..........he is getting better and better at explaining that that is not the point and that faster isn't always a better way and that there are hidden costs to bigger more POWER tools, and there is an intimacy with the material that becomes too far removed the bigger the machine............etc.
when I taught five day rug twining classes the students were in a frame of mind to immerse themselves in the work and learn everything they could about the process.....and even then I couldn't cover everything....five days is a very short learning experience.
I browse PBS for 'how to' sometimes and see the computerized sewing machines making something that is the 'impression' of a real craft, food recipes that are measured by the quick preparation time, and hear the phrase 'quick and easy' used ALL the time.
I am working at trying to bring some other phrases into a more positive light ....."this task is 'slow and difficult"; "this is not easy, you will have to work very hard"; "this might take a lifetime of focus and learning to be good at this skill"......
It's not like I don't think some things can't be appropriately 'quick and easy'....I guess I am just realizing how much that 'quick and easy' mindset has permeated this country....and maybe other places as well.


other thoughts?
 
Bill Bradbury
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Judith, I couldn't agree more!
I restore old homes which is a long, slow process to perform that takes a lifetime to master. When I take on a new apprentice, he doesn't touch any power tools until he has a proficiency with it's human powered counterpart. I've found that they hit the mark much more often when the tool doesn't bite so hard and then when they go to power tools, they realize the limitations of them and use them more appropriately. The only time I use power tools is if there is a large chore that will be tedious by hand. The noise, dust and risk of injury are not usually worth it.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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I often hear people wanting permaculture to be "quick and easy". It is a pervasive mindset where I am, even within our permaculture group! That astonishes me. And while I think there are some things that can be a "quick win" or "low hanging fruit" - let's face it, good permaculture design is an art form that is 75% observation (or more).

I think that for many in industrialized countries, the mindset of "time = money" has come to dominate. Changing that mindset can be difficult especially if people are caught up in the whirlwind that is modern life. Many people don't even prepare their own food most of the time.

Maybe we have to create a "slow" movement around crafting like Slow Foods is an alternative to fast food?
 
D. Logan
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This mentality is a product of the way we live our lives now. When your life is broken into clear blocks of time (8 hours for work, 2 hours commute time total, half an hour to pick up the kids, forty minutes to cook, conference call at 10, etc) and people feel a constant rush to move from one to the next. I learned a lot about the notion of time while hiking the AT. In a car, I can cross the country in a few days. I look out the window and see a few interesting things in the distance perhaps, but that's it. Walking at an average of 12 miles each day, I could wake when I wanted and be done walking before noon if I wanted to pick up the pace.

When I came home, I made a point of walking places in town. I found out all sorts of interesting things I had never seen when I simply drove past things. Without the rush of modern life, I felt much more comfortable taking time and doing things in whatever time they happened to take. Years later now, I have had to be involved with the working world again. I have had schedules, deadlines and days where juggling time was a real monster. At one point, my free time was limited to about twenty minutes a day. Quick and easy skills were what I aimed for at that time. Not because the slow and steady ones lacked value, but because the pay-off emotionally for mastering a skill in 20 minutes a day for a week was more powerful than learning some other skill that took several years at that rate to even become competent.

People like to feel like they are accomplishing something. They like to see themselves getting somewhere. From the outside, they can only judge a thing by the end product and the amount of time it took to do it. To those who've never carved a bowl, the hand carved bowl and the machine carved bowl look roughly similar. To their mind, they see an end result and calculate the time it took to make each. Without an understanding of the 'feel' of it or the subtle aspects that went into the slower version, they have no baseline for making an accurate comparison. By default, quick and easy wins to them.

I suffer the same thing with cooking. People are constantly trying to convince me to cut corners and save myself time. "Oh, it will be just as good." If it is just as good, why are they in love with the food I cook and just like the store-bought versions? There is so much subtle nuance and so much greater control over the finished product when you are able to go through the slower methods. Some tools may speed the work up without sacrificing anything on a project, but others as mentioned in the OP, have a cost. That cost may be to the finished product or to the world as a whole.
 
leila hamaya
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yes agreed!
i also get this all the time. people with good intentions trying to "help" me to see i need to do super fast production work, or somehow mechanize things, etc.
one of the problems is in a certain way they are sort of right, the way to make a real livable wage with crafts is to do production, the exact same design done hundreds of times, and to get the design done with minimal time, faster and faster each time.

this pretty much totally negates the point of being a craftsperson in the first place...anyway that kind of pseudo craft work is available, mostly from third world countries where the economy is so different and people are all too willing to work for slave wages, unfortunately. that stuff is available for cheap all over, and its true people dont recognize the quality of that work is low, and a real hand made "slow crafted" item is much higher quality ...and then expect for them to be the same price. even attempting to not undersell your work, and charge a price closer to what you need to get, still doesnt pay a craftsperson a minimum wage, and yet is much more than some cheap pseudo craft work from a third world country with inferior materials.

but that is the only way to really make money and not just keep living on miracles and inching by on little bits of income here and there. you would hope there were ways to make this clearer, i suppose there is to just charge prices for your work as though none of this matters and truly reflects what you should be charged, but then hardly anyone would buy the work and it would be too expensive for most people to buy.

i knew this artist who made large metal sculptures and kept extremely meticulous records of exact price of the materials, as well as every hour put into the work. when someone wanted to buy one of her pieces she would bring out her master list, and tell you it was however many hours, and the price of the materials. she would then asked to be paid the same wage as the person interested in purchasing it. if someone worked for min wage, thats what she would ask to get (plus materials cost), if someone made bazillions of dollars an hour pushing pencils, she expected to be able to make that too if they bought it. it was rather clever, i hope it worked out for her, but worked better for larger pieces like she did. it totally brought something up for people though, just how much went into the work, something people cant fathom unless they are also craftspeople!
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Oh Boy! (Alternatively, Girl... )

That gets an apple... This topic ties into so much I have recently read and have been thinking about. From woodworking shows to rocket mass heaters... There is a cultural obsession with the "perception" (not reality) of "quick and easy" and/or "faster is better."

All of this contemporary social development that is so deeply rooted in the post industrial mindset that grew out of the Industrial Revolution that has spawned a heavily laden consumer culture of buy it now and throw it away, or "if it ain't done fast... It isn't any good," silliness. If has not only become a sickness within society, but a root cause of almost every environmental ill we suffer today.

From watching celebrities like “Norm Abram” go into a museum to studying an historic piece of furniture... Then back to his shop to bastardize the hell out of the original with power tools, as if this is a good thing worth doing and repeating? I have met Norm a few times, and a nice enough fellow, yet oblivious to this view, and when asked does the same as justifying all the rest like him. “This Old House,” an alleged show about historic restoration did anything but “restoration.” I saw more vintage architecture destroyed, altered, bastardized, and thoroughly messed up by Norm and his gang than I ever saw restored. I still battle today with “General Contractors” advertising and calling themselves “restoration specialist,” when they do not have a clue what that actually means or entails. One of my teachers told me decades ago (he had been born in the latter half of the 1800’s) that if you couldn’t go into a forest, and/or quarry and fashion the materials and create a structure from scratch in the original context of the Housewright that designed and built a structure, you had no business referring to yourself as an “architectural restoration specialist.” He further felt this way about any of the historic and ancient artifacts in museums as well. Be it a “knapped” point, skin kayak, clothing, or anything else. There is a huge difference between Restoration, Conservation, and authentic replication. All of which are seldom…”quick and easy.”

This also ties into my constant harping about “reinventing wheels.” All too often, when I bring this up, I get a response that I must be against “innovation.” I just do not get that. I love innovation... I also love common sense that if something works... Do not fix it. What is this obsession with trying to make it easier and faster to do? Again, this comes directly from this post IR mindset of letting us make it really easy, then we can sell it for lots of money and when it breaks we can throw it away and buy/make another….

I have seen this throughout the development of the “rocket mass heaters” as so many “closet inventors” (very poor ones in most cases) try to “improve” and/or delude themselves into believing they are being “innovative.” 80% of them have zero experience in traditional stove, furnace, or kiln design, have not practical background in the arts, or crafts that use combustion chambers, they have never studied in depth the ancient history of these types of devices... YET…. They are going to go out, and/or believe they have invented something new and wondrous…

I could continue to rant like this from one example to another... I guess I, now have become my Grandma (Grand pappy just gave up on the “poor fools,” as he called them…)

I probably think too much about this subject and the normative culture of modern hubris of…”I can do it better... And faster... And cheaper…”


 
Judith Browning
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D. Logan...well said...........this part of what you say is something that I have thought about a lot........
People like to feel like they are accomplishing something. They like to see themselves getting somewhere. From the outside, they can only judge a thing by the end product and the amount of time it took to do it. To those who've never carved a bowl, the hand carved bowl and the machine carved bowl look roughly similar. To their mind, they see an end result and calculate the time it took to make each. Without an understanding of the 'feel' of it or the subtle aspects that went into the slower version, they have no baseline for making an accurate comparison. By default, quick and easy wins to them.

It brings up the question of just how much of the process determines the value (unrelated to money) of an object... I spent years on a standards/jurying committee for our state wide craft guild...one area that would come up frequently had to do with ram pressed pottery. Potters who threw or hand-built pots didn't want ram press pottery allowed, even though the original pots were hand thrown, because it was that step beyond hand made into mass produced.........long discussions, and many were about how the final objects side by side were hard to distinguish for most people. Which has more value? I think that is a personal question.........
...for me I find value in things where I am aware of the human connections and a mindful history, including materials and processes.
I think that is what drew me to permaculture....
I envy you your hike............We do many day hikes and love the feeling of falling into a timeless unrushed zone.
 
Alder Burns
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Another factor that needs to be kept in mind in relation to this issue is the fragmentation of modern society, which I believe to have been encouraged in the interests of profit. One person, or a couple even, simply doesn't have enough time to do everything for him/herself. The default solution is to pick a task valued by the mainstream society, do that as a job for money, and buy in all of your needs from other people doing likewise. Because the system is so large, impersonal, and complex, many opportunities exist for exploitation of various kinds.
I have been on isolated homesteads (including where I am now) and also in smaller and larger intentional communities (up to around 30 people) for much of my adult life and my long term conclusion is that some form of community is necessary for any serious attempt at sustainable living. This, of course, was the default state of humanity for most of prehistory...a tribe, or a village, or even an extended family.
For instance, take cooking. It's almost as quick and easy to cook for five or six people as it is to cook for one If I spend two hours cooking that meal, the other people don't have to. They can be doing something else that benefits me with a similar level of efficiency.
So, without enough people in the system, there's an endless temptation to cut corners and find quicker ways to do things on the small homestead. For instance, I've just ordered an electric nutcracker to try to hasten the process of cracking acorns every day for my chickens (which I consider a rather cutting-edge practice that very few are doing, and it's making use of the huge opportunity of the regular glut of acorns we have here). For the last few months I've spent over an hour a day cracking and leaching and cooking acorns for 10-12 chickens. Now, with much shorter daylength, that is really eating into the time available for other things. I know there are other design answers....starting with raising better-adapted animals like hogs or sheep or even geese that might be able to eat the acorns whole and unprocessed, and rely on these for meat rather than chickens.....but then again I need time to set up the infrastructure to keep them!
 
Dan Boone
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D. Logan wrote:This mentality is a product of the way we live our lives now. When your life is broken into clear blocks of time (8 hours for work, 2 hours commute time total, half an hour to pick up the kids, forty minutes to cook, conference call at 10, etc) and people feel a constant rush to move from one to the next.


I think this is an important observation. So often we simply do not have time to learn or practice craftsmanship. I will often choose the method or product that takes the least time so that I can still have a bit of "me time" left in my schedule.
 
Charles Tarnard
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How about 'careful and rewarding' 'meticulous, detailed, and fulfilling' or 'a life experience you won't acquire in a weekend.'

All of the above are things I have trouble budgeting time for, but need to work toward.

 
Judith Browning
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I think that all of you who have responded are aware of how you might make or do something ideally and then sometimes, for whatever reason choose to do it differently....that's how life goes and I get that
What I think I am seeing and am concerned about seems to be an expectation among many (not so much here at permies) that things happen 'quick and easy' and the interest is ONLY in the results and the results must be fast..........I'm kind of fuzzy expressing this, I know. It's not just consumerism, it's instant 'gardens', 'music', 'craft', 'food'.....all kinds of things....go buy this list of stuff and there you are, you've made a 'garden', a 'house', a 'meal'............
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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It's not just consumerism, it's instant 'gardens', 'music', 'craft', 'food'.....all kinds of things....go buy this list of stuff and there you are, you've made a 'garden', a 'house', a 'meal'............


No...

No, it is not just any one of those things you listed and I believe you do get it and you are expressing it perfectly as it can be...

This is the insidious nature of "sloth."

When I tell students this...they often ask, "Like one of the seven deadly Sins?"

YES...Just like that, which it is. This "impatiens" is a form of laziness (sloth) that inundates our human condition today. If anything from the clothes worn, to food eaten to just nurturing relationships is at all difficult and/or takes too long (like writing a letter instead of "tweeting" or "Facebooking") in accomplishing...it simply has NO VALUE, and isn't worth doing. Of course, this also ties directly into the acquisition of wealth and possessions. If it can be done fast it is more valuable because you can get more of it quicker...whatever "IT" is...and...it does not matter if it really has any intrinsic quality or meaning. Just the fact that it can be "processed" quickly...that is what is important.

As just one more sad example...this is why so many naive and poorly informed think Cobb architecture is for them...it’s easy and fast...both of which is the farthest from the actual truth when done properly and well....

I own that the above perhaps is subjective on my part...yet I have never had anyone been able to quantified this social ill that is taking over in a more positive perspective...I just don't believe that is possible...and...More important than justification for this is to change our mindsets back to what they had been before the IR and the drive of sloth and greed took over the human condition.
 
Charles Tarnard
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I think it is consumerism, or it is directly tied to consumerism. For most, everything in our society is something you buy finished. At most it's ready to assemble. And if you're willing to pay enough you can have anything right now.

So people work longer hours at their job so they can get that money and because they don't know how to live without that job, they don't know how to budget the time to learn how to do these things for themselves. Then when you tell them they'll need to practice for the rest of the season to get to a basic level of competence, you get the blank stare of desperation.

Anecdotally, I am relatively new to permaculture and I am having a real difficult time figuring out how to step away from my job with a wife that isn't really on board with the ideas of simplifying and reducing the need for grids and those kinds of support. I know that my current gardening, craft, and woodworking skills are such that I will most likely die if I just move to the middle of nowhere and try to live off the land. I can only imagine someone really idealizing the whole thing coming to the realization that living can be hard.
 
D. Logan
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Charles Tarnard wrote:I think it is consumerism, or it is directly tied to consumerism. For most, everything in our society is something you buy finished. At most it's ready to assemble. And if you're willing to pay enough you can have anything right now.

So people work longer hours at their job so they can get that money and because they don't know how to live without that job, they don't know how to budget the time to learn how to do these things for themselves. Then when you tell them they'll need to practice for the rest of the season to get to a basic level of competence, you get the blank stare of desperation.

Anecdotally, I am relatively new to permaculture and I am having a real difficult time figuring out how to step away from my job with a wife that isn't really on board with the ideas of simplifying and reducing the need for grids and those kinds of support. I know that my current gardening, craft, and woodworking skills are such that I will most likely die if I just nice to the middle of nowhere and try to live of the land. I can only imagine someone really idealizing the whole thing coming to the realization that living can be hard.


In a situation like this, I think it can be really overwhelming. Someone who wants to keep their normal life and just learn a new craft can take lazy shortcuts (quick and easy) and get the immediate gratification or they can take the slow road and truly perfect a craft. Your situation isn't that. You aren't trying to learn one thing, but dozens and all at once. This is one of those moments where I think quick is okay, as long as you accept that it isn't going to be easy.

I am a strong advocate of learning survival skills first and foremost. The reason for this is that once you have a basic understanding of how to survive, the fear of not having money to survive is gone. Money becomes more about comfort than survival. Learn several ways to start fires, harvest drinkable water and build shelters. Learn a dozen or more local plants that are edible, medicinal and/or useful in some way. Favor the ones that can be found year round and are very common. Make sure to learn any dangerous look-alikes as well. Learn a little tracking and how to set some basic animal traps.

Most of these things, can be learned fairly quickly, but not easily. Test the skills some and expand them as time allows. Once you have that basic level of knowledge, you can then focus on the things that will help you find comfort without money. Expanding on gardening and understanding long term polyculture. Learn some basic woodworking that relies on dove tails and other such things rather than nails or if you feel like you'd rather focus on bigger things, learn how to lash poles. You can easily lash poles into a number of useful furniture items on the off chance nails aren't around. (Cause let's be honest here, the odds are you will have access to nails.) Simple things can be quickly learned like how to make your own oil lamps or cooking over a fire. These things aren't perfected quickly, but they are learned to a serviceable level quickly. From there, you have a slower road to mastery.

I sometimes marvel at how quickly some things can be learned to a level that can be useful, but then take decades to master. Tracking, for example, can have all the basics taught in a few days and after those few days, you will be able to look at your lawn and recognize animal trails along it. Mastery however is a very slow and difficult process that requires a ton of dirt time to go beyond just competent. The quick start makes it a usable skill, but the long time spent perfecting it makes it an incredible tool for a lot more broad situations.

Your situation makes me think maybe we are looking at this topic all wrong. Sloth and low expectations from a throw away society are very real things, but maybe we need to find a way to create gateway skills that we focus on with the uninitiated. An example might be how ten minutes is all it takes to show someone how to turn any fiber into a usable twine with your bare hands. Twenty minutes gets them to a point of being able to do it well and fully understanding the principles. This quick skill is something easy to master and much like the achievement system of a video game, offers an immediate payoff at a low bar to get them hooked on the idea of continuing. From there, maybe they spend more time learning drop spindles. Eventually full loomwork. Each step of the way, the slow and difficult is more strongly manifested over the quick and easy, but because of the early sense of accomplishment and reward from their effort, they are more inclined to keep pushing forward and dedicating more effort to obtain their reward. Each small victory and improvement becomes a small boost to their confidence and determination.

Just a thought though. Take from it what value you may.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Well... One thing is for sure... No matter what degree we are accurate in our insertions on this topic... I couldn't think of better folks to be stranded on an island with...

The voices in this conversation are coming from what strikes me as very sincere souls...
 
Judith Browning
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D. Logan, I think you are right on the mark for those who want to learn, like Charles T.
I have been lucky with those I teach...it was through a folk school and those who came (and paid a lot to be there) were very much in tune with learning a new craft and had the time away from home to focus completely and they were three to five day classes of pure joy
The classes that I tried and then quit teaching were groups who wanted to come in and make something they could take home and say 'see what I made' ...the 'classes' were to be four hours and they really did want it in 'kit' form. They would not have been satisfied with a twisted bit of yarn, they were pretty upfront about wanting something they could show off at home....they wanted a woven placemat to just magically appear I think for that class to work I would have had to spend time on life style and philosophy first and probably driven them all away in the end....I just was not creative enough to satisfy them or myself.
My husbands situation is different in that he is open to the public and some come for the 'show' . One of the things he works at is trying to connect what he is doing to the moment, not letting it be just a piece of history with no thread to the present.
I think in the end, that is what permies is accomplishing very well...much inspirational sharing of information happens here and wonderful problem solving....maybe the ripple effect will make the most difference of all.
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