A friend just passed this interview along, and it got me thinking. Every so often, this sort of thing pops up on my radar: lone individual / tiny group doing things on their own rather than using the commonly available mass-produced thing, and they’re doing it for Reasons. I find something seductive in these stories. Self-sufficiency, exercising one’s own creativity, building just exactly the thing one wants or needs, these are really powerful juice. Heck, the QBCPS does this all the time, because we want what we want and we aren’t happy about settling for almost good, so we build things and make things so that we have the lives we want, not the lives we can buy. (Incidentally, this is why when our house and nearly all our belongings burned up in a fire, we’re fundamentally okay — we are not defined by our stuff.)
So, then, I read an article about Lojban, or about living self-sufficiently (or nearly so) in a tiny house or on a boat or in an RV or something, or about someone who writes all their own programs and builds their own solar panels or whatever, and I feel pulled to that. And then I come to my senses. Because the feeling of being creative like that is really seductive, but the reasons given in the story (or even in this essay) are never really the reasons. They’re rationalizations of the feeling. The reason we do this stuff is because it feels good; because we like it.
The mass-produced, widely available, almost-good products are not emotionally satisfying. But they have massive network externalities. They interoperate with one another. There’s a globe-enveloping ecosystem of human stuff that all works together. Building a thing that doesn’t plug into that ecosystem is a huge amount of work, and whatever benefits you reap from that work are either massively delayed or else they’re highly personal.
I have this feeling that this might be applicable to the development of the civilization package (writing, sedentism, hierarchy, agriculture,…) but that’s way more work than I’m prepared to do on the topic. Instead, I’m just going to appreciate that there are people doing their own things, rolling their own tech, and know that it’s okay for me not to participate in their stuff; that I’ve got stuff of my own.