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Urushi

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to finish things. When everything is trying to get us to start, embrace the new, what enables us to see something through to the end?

A couple of days ago I met someone who was obsessed with Japanese lacquers, particularly Urushi, the sap of a toxic tree that has been used in Japanese crafts for centuries. Urushi is expensive and can cause some rather unpleasant side effects. Working with it signifies a serious level of commitment.

Im most areas of life it’s pretty easy not to commit; we can have a go at almost anything. And when we’re having a go at things we’re always looking out for other things that might be better. The thing is, when the true value of so many things comes from a long term, deep relationship with them, how will we ever find this value if we only have one eye on them?

Technology exacerbates these fleeting relationships. We can hack, tinker, have a go. All these things are important, but how do we keep the balance and complete things? What do we mean by “craft” in the digital era, in our work and in our lives? What do we do that’s good enough for Urushi?

  • http://twitter.com/socialtechno SocialTechno

    Our lives became different when industry replaced craft. And they became different again, when they became digital. Two kinds of abundance, replacing scarcity. Ten pairs of shoes, instead of one hand made pair. The World Wide Web, instead of a few books on a shelf.

    We still revere the solitary maker, but we no longer complete things before we share them. We share them, so others can complete them. Every digital artefact is configurable by the user. The things that surround us are programmable, configurational, and conversational. And the conversation never ends.

    Perhaps it would be better to think of work like gardening, rather than making a piece of furniture. One can be serious about a garden, and committed to tending it, but we never ask the gardener “nice apple tree, but when will it be finished?”