Review of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Matthew B. Crawford
Rating: 4/5

Less lucid than my usual reviews, but here are some thoughts I thought while reading this book. Maybe I'll come back and clean it up. Maybe not. Who knows.


succinctly captures the idea of bullshit jobs

shows that having an objective measure of how good is your work is important, and helps separate jobs from bullshit jobs

ikea and buildabear are probably marketed explicitly with the idea that you have to build it yourself. this is the empty calories of doing things with our hands. designing a home by shopping at ikea is merely choice, and not craft or skill. everything has been pre-vetted for being good enough. what differentiates real things? where do we draw the line at actually learning?

^ the process seems to be explicitly one of giving it your all and coming up short, and learning how to do better for next time. the iterated fixed point is where you become a master.

things you build yourself, even if they aren't perfect, are much more important to us. it's easy to see how you might keep a coffee table you built for decades. we take pride in them.

the mechanic has a fiduciary resp. to the customer, but a moral resp to the bike he's fixing. these responsibilities are in tension

the world is being more and more infantilized, as we remove choices, and the responsibility (or even the capability) of understanding from people. sears catalogues used to include schematics of everything they sold --- assuming you'd want to know. this is no longer the case. on one hand that's good; it allows us to focus on the things we care about. but the majority of things being built today are intentionally tamper-proof; assuming that you are not smart enough, or allowed to be fucking with your own stuff. do we even own our own stuff anymore?

relatedly, the relationship of democracy and absentee capitalism implies problems are not any one person's responsibility. our global institutions require so many moving pieces that it's impossible to find someone to blame when something goes wrong. cf how terrible customer service is; because everything is so specialized, the people you are talking to have no understanding, no power, and no responsibility. management he says is mostly spent dealing this ambiguity to cover your ass.

misunderstanding of culture; presumably it's what makes a place successful, which is an important detail to capture when you are globalizing

complete misunderstanding of abstraction, and its value. he dismisses his dad as being a man who "traffics in abstractions," saying ohms law is useless because it doesn't help you fix motorcycles. no, but it does help you BUILD motorcycles. and electronics. abstractions let us deal with the world and understand bigger things than human minds can comfortably contain.

very good description of the experience of mechanics/engineering. the minute to minute frustrations, and sorts of problems you need to deal with. despite having never touched(?) a motorcycle, this chapter resonated the FUCK out of me with dealing with computer systems.