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Perhaps at some point there will be revulsion. The other day I went to a Barnes and Noble and they have quadrupled their vinyl record section. Paper books continue to out sell e-books and Kodak is making more color film than in the last ten years.

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Yeah, I don’t think that anything but full, true humanity can “win” in the end. We may never strike a consistent or perfect equilibrium, but I don’t think we’ll cause our own extinction either.

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This is a problem for the creative arts. It’s also a problem for healthcare - and more insidious, because there’s a strong push to eliminate the subjective messiness of human clinicians. You really want to trust your health to one of those? I regularly write and read about medicine and the machine. I don’t see any tides turning there.

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Oof. Have you read much of or otherwise interacted with Illich’s work on healthcare/medicine?

“The tides aren’t turning” meaning things are only getting worse? Or holding steady for now?

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I've read Illich. A helpful, under-appreciated voice.

I think there's a deep tension in healthcare, probably also present elsewhere: tools can do some amazing things (I think you'd agree!). In healthcare, we've got antibiotics, chemotherapy, surgery. All sorts of great things. But we've also got iatrogenesis (Illich's term), when medical care harms. Every clinician is familiar with iatrogenesis. Clinicians are less familiar with the pharmakon - something that has both benefits and harms, and the harms can't be directly deduced from what we know about the thing. So, for example, we never could have predicted that the ventilator would have resulted in sustaining people in a state of limbo, neither dying nor being restored to health. Likewise, I don't think we could have predicted that the electronic medical record would have so deformed the clinical encounter that clinicians now treat the so-called "e-patient," tending to the computer screen to the neglect of their real patients.

So, once you allow that you're going to use tools, you've got to also cultivate the character traits necessary to use tools well. We don't have that in medical education: https://familymeetingnotes.substack.com/p/unwieldy-power-when-our-medicine In this way, I don't think things are getting better; not sure if they're getting worse though. There's a resurgence to explore the humanities in medicine, but only by adopting it to healthcare's efficient agenda. Everything must serve those outcomes.

Clinicians (and patients, and society) are generally techno-optimists when it comes to healthcare. Yeah, yeah, give me the vintage hand tools for woodworking, but for healthcare, I want the newest and most advanced. More is better. If you can, you should. And we have good reasons to behave this way: medicine works! Science has brought us some amazing advances in healthcare, so why shouldn't the trend continue?

Tensions abound. We need more wisdom.

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I'm one of those creative-types that was in the advertising and marketing business for over 25 years. I lost my job as a creative director when it was apparent that the print world was (seemingly, at least to my overlords) coming to an end. Everything was moving the way of the internet. And I, steeped in the world of print and not in the world of the internet, was no longer seen as needed or necessary. When creating using Apple machines, it was seen as a tool that I could then use to create something that I could hold in my hands, a printed item that I could touch, feel, smell. I find it telling that the iPad I bought (now a few generations old) is only now used by my wife. That tablet is certainly not to used to create a single thing, but to simply read news, books, watch stupid videos... in other words, simply to consume... or perhaps more to the truth: to numb the mind, pass the time, dull the senses when there's seemingly nothing else to do. The truth that we are made for so much more, and that we must do so as embodied creatures, will come out. It's just taking time. But truth will win out. It always does.

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May 9Liked by Nate Marshall

My job was less stressful, more fun and way cooler when I entered graphic design about 40 years ago. I sat at a drawing board, used Rotring pens, rubbed down Letraset, resized artwork in the camera room. All tactile and satisfying technical tasks with a side portion of olfactory thrills. Of course, I loved my first Mac but… now my eyes just hurt.

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May 9·edited May 9Author

Taking the advertisement at its word, the ability to create should be accessible to anyone that uses the tablet. Do you think that you could be the graphic designer that you are (assuming you've had some measure of success: if you sucked, you wouldn't be doing it 40 years later, I don't imagine!) if you had only worked in a digital medium? Is there something about the material world that has informed your ability to work in digital mediums?

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The idea of removing alternate modes of operation and streamlining processes removes potential for human intuition, experience, and intervention that are the whole point of having a craft rather than a factory.

See one of the farthest things from the factory (standard inputs, outputs, and processes) - a charred and epoxied custom table from Blacktail Studios.

https://youtu.be/6fsrLOgl69U?si=pCUDsub5BvWOZ59C

In short, idiot-proof also means genius-proof.

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Accessibility is the nemesis of craft.

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I don’t know that I can disagree. “Foolproofing” everything and making everything accessible to everyone has been a disaster.

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May 14Liked by Nate Marshall

I have a growing suspicion that just like the "labor saving" miracle inventions of the past actually just made us busier, these may do the same. The only difference I see is that the former devices made physical work simpler or easier but the new ones perform in the mental and emotional spaces. The former made room for more physical production, but I don't know if there's room for more thought in the same way. The more input we receive, the less room for analysis and absorption, the less time for creativity. As the labor savers made us weaker in body, will the smart devices make us weaker in mind?

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You're bang on, imo.

Following Matthew Crawford, I'd even be willing to say that labor savers made us weaker in both body and mind. There is a sort of embodied cognition that we separate ourselves from by creating what Ivan Illich called "energy slaves" (a concept I refer to in this piece: https://thebluescholar.substack.com/p/the-sorcerers-slave). Manual labor, in my experience, has sharpened and possibly even increased my capacity for thought.

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May 14Liked by Nate Marshall

Simpler work does help with clarity of mind. I'll check out that other article. Good work.

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Great thoughts here Nate; I look forward to reading more as you process. I'd heard about the "ad" (seems more like propaganda to me) but hadn't seen it yet, so thank you for sharing it here.

I guess we tend to perceive things through the lens of what we're writing/working on, but I couldn't help thinking as I watched, that this is the antithesis of the "quiet life" which St. Paul advised should be our ambition. Instead it's constant noise and fuel for the passions, pumped through a super-thin screen... And I certainly think you're onto something with the Babel connection. That is probably a thread worth pulling.

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Thanks for the kind words, Jereme. It seems like “quiet life” is only possible if I am able to attend to one thing at a time. Theoretically it is possible to attend to one thing with a tablet, but the probability is very low. It’s much higher when the tools have singular use, or at least use beyond themselves in some way.

I’ll put some thought into the Babel connection and see where it leads me. Thanks for the encouragement.

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Well said. Great questions. Perhaps a reading group to engage your selected authors? I'm looking for thought/dialogue/writing partners in this arena as well, as it is my own area of pain and restlessness (work, technology, creativity, how to be human, etc).

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May 11Liked by Nate Marshall

Just designed my first Philosophy of Technology course in December. I'd never taught it before but I knew who some of the major voices were. Researching the course unearthed several of the names on your list, to which I'll add:

Hannah Arendt, 'Human Condition'

Arthur Allen Leff, "Law and Technology"

Leo Marx, "Technology: The Emergence of a Dangerous Concept"

_____, 'The Machine in the Garden'

David Nye, 'Technology Matters: Questions to Live With'

_____, 'American Technological Sublime'

Samuel Butler, 'Erewhon'

H. G. Wells, 'The Land Ironclads'

C. S. Lewis, 'The Abolition of Man'

Norbert Wiener, 'The Human Use of Human Beings'

Langdon Winner, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?"

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Incredible. Thanks for adding to this list!

I saw your piece about your students’ responses to the ad. How was/is the PhilTech course?

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May 11Liked by Nate Marshall

Not bad, for a first run. I'm transparent with them about how, for me, teaching is an iterative design process. The first run is always rough but I solicit their input quite a bit as I work to finetune it for next time. "Next time" is this coming fall, too; so their recommendations will have an immediate impact on their colleagues, friends, and roommates.

Do you teach? If so, what/where?

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It’s great that you have their trust such that they’ll give you that feedback. Everyone will benefit from it.

I’m not an educator by trade, I’m a plumber, but I do teach for my employer’s academy: I’m a technical instructor. I also teach communication classes for field and office staff, and I’m involved in L&D, instructional design, and leadership development.

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May 11Liked by Nate Marshall

I love instructional design. While I was studying at the University of Kansas I worked for their Center for Teaching Excellence, with faculty who study learning behavior, course design, and learning assessment. That position landed me a spot on the board of an academic society whose members research teaching. During those years, I got to see some amazing work on how people learn and how we can design experiences that maximize their potential.

What instructional design ideas have influenced you most?

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I’m new enough to the discipline to not have particular influences or ideas. Who or what should I know about to form my opinions?

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Okay, so here's what stinks about a lot of the research on learning that I know: it's published with a specific focus on higher education. So you could read it; but you'd have to transfer concepts to your own context.

With that one caveat, check out:

Wiggins and McTighe, 'Understanding by Design'

Ambrose et al., 'How Learning Works'

Weimer, 'Learner-Centered Teaching'

Gray and Brown, 'Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers'

Also, the concept of Bloom's Taxonomy is really powerful wherever it's applied well. The University of Central Florida's Faculty Center does a good job breaking it down:

https://fctl.ucf.edu/teaching-resources/course-design/blooms-taxonomy/#:~:text=Bloom's%20taxonomy%20was%20developed%20to,a%20variety%20of%20cognitive%20levels.

Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching offers valuable history on the Taxonomy, which has changed since first published in 1956:

https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

And Iowa State's Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has published a four-track model that I like to refer to as "the Queen-Mother Version of Bloom's Taxonomy":

https://www.celt.iastate.edu/instructional-strategies/effective-teaching-practices/revised-blooms-taxonomy/

Bloom's Taxonomy is good for training kids and adults, and if you can write what you write, you can easily create training experiences that leverage it well.

If you want a conversation about any of this, DM me. I'm totally here for that.

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When there is no challenge, no friction, no limitation, there is no art, there is no craft, there is no achievement. Tools are beneficial to the extent we can use them to work through meaningful challenges. When the so-called tools enable us to entirely bypass the challenges, they are no longer tools. Instead they are evil instruments of self deception.

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May 11Liked by Nate Marshall

So many companies have lost touch with their audiences/customers. Businesses used to try to serve, even seduce, their customers. Now they ignore, abuse, and bully us. Apple in particular is losing its magic. The Apple Watch is an incomprehensible mess, the antithesis of the sleek, intuitive user-interfaces that once made Apple products popular. The iPad ad is insulting and arrogant, when it should be inviting and inspiring. Our overlords have spent too much time in the clouds; they have forgotten how to talk to us dirt people.

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I wonder what the response would have been if the ad depicted all those things being say, a machine shop or manufacturing plant, each a tool in the process that, in the end shaped or formed the iPad? But, I think this one is inadvertantly more "truth in advertising": it depicts the soul crushing hubris of Apple's world vision and regard for tradition, the "shoulders of giants", and human dignity.

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May 9·edited May 9Author

It's a great question, Steve.

I try to make the point that I don't think Apple is unveiling some nefarious plan, or that Tim Cook is twirling his mustache while the Apple trolley is barreling toward the tied-down populace -- they're just speaking it like it is for them. They really believe that the iPad can be a useful tool for creators to create.

But if that's true, then I wonder if it doesn't mean something like: they only depicted the crushing of tools and products of "creative" endeavors, not the tools of the manual trades, as you've pointed out, so perhaps they don't think of the skilled trades as "creative"? Maybe Apple's (and our culture's) idea of "creativity" is actually too narrow? Or perhaps they don't recognize that what they identify as "creative" (viz. those disciplines represented in the ad) are dependent on embodied, skilled practices in the real world and are, therefore, trades? Do they (and we as a culture, their ideas didn't spring from a vacuum) believe that creativity is fundamentally abstract and therefore can be accessed abstractly via digitally represented abstractions of those disciplines?

And maybe this is why the tools of other trades -- wrenches and hammers and files and levels and rulers and plumb lines and recip saws and screwdrivers and planers -- weren't depicted, because they are concrete and "non-creative" and, therefore, obviously not able to be abstracted as "creative" things are?

I don't know. I keep churning out questions, which is not great for my book budget or other things I should be focusing on 😭😂

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I agree that the iPad is not part of a nefarious plan. Ultimately I think human beings are only capable of unintended consequences of "good ideas". HA! But yes, as someone who is a tradesman and a fine artist who now uses digital art technology because of physical limitations, I concur that the definition of "creativity" is constricted when someone has never used a hand or power tool or tried to make a drywall repair invisible to the eye. It seems that one of the unintended consequences of the Industrial Revolution was the birfurcation of "art" and "trades". In the past an "artist" had to be a tradesman at some level. The concreteness of "mass production" and the "one off-ness" of "art" is a cultural juxtaposition, even though there is "artistry" in creating the "one off" machine that produces junk. Anyway, looking forward to your ruminations!

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May 14Liked by Nate Marshall

Brutal assessment! As a metal musician and event producer, I've used my fair share of audio interfaces to various ends, but for me it always comes down to the analogue solution of amps and strings and pickups and fretboards. Purporting to contain all of that physical experience into a single point of haptic feedback and lossless audio is less than appealing, though I do quite like the product for other uses.

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I'm beginning to think that tools that point beyond themselves and invite the user to look beyond the tool to the environment the tool is being used to affect is a sign that the tool is good.

Your use of audio interfaces is a great example.

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May 11Liked by Nate Marshall

Also, what shall we say about the slippery use of the word "Pro" in this device's name? "Pro" as in short for "professional"? They're professing an awful lot about what it will be able to replace. But beyond that, I think it's mostly a **profession** of such ability--I've never seen an iPad truly deliver the goods on replacing what's been crushed in this commercial. Has anyone else?

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May 9Liked by Nate Marshall

Iain McGilchrist’s exploration of the distinction between perception oriented towards the whole and perception oriented towards parts (components) could hardly find a better visual representation than this horrifying video. It acts like a psychological experiment: we watch these beautiful forms without any immediate intuition that they could be decomposed into parts. Then - without emotional warning - the distressing decomposition. It’s astonishing. The “wholeness” of the guitar, the piano, the brush is torn away. Suddenly the objects as assemblies pushes to the front. You can feel it. Horrible.

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