Is there a future in woodworking? Just thought I’d ask, seems like too many visions of the future paint a world where technology predominates as visceral and omnipresent, a world of flashing lights and gleaming switches. Where in that space is the wooden object?
I want to present a different prognostication. I’m thinking recently of the Philip K Dick novel in the title for this post, and a podcast I listened to on the future of automation, as well as reading H.G. Well’s “The Shape of Things to Come“.
Well, how should I put this. Is your cell phone getting bigger or smaller? Just how cheaply can you buy an Arduino these days? In the Japanese tradition for wooden joinery it is very often pointed out how the joinery is hidden. That’s a bit simplistic, maybe its better to narrow down that kind of refinement to sashimono woodworking specifically, though there is are still clear exceptions and important context in terms of how the furniture is used. But my point is that the process of technical refinement often makes things look simple that are quite complex in construction.
Technology will do the same things, the homes of the prosperous technological elite of the future will aspire to the aesthetic of sukiya, the rustic tea house. As Moore’s law pushes onward and functions stack into ever smaller packages technology becomes more seamless and integrated into our built environments. It struck me after reading Ty & Kiyoko Heineken’s “Tansu” how a fellow like me could find himself studying a dainty and refined sho-dana in the MET based on free standing shelves produces centuries earlier housed in the Shoso-in that originally were used to house perishables in the imperial kitchen.
Trend making is more diverse and confusing these days with the internet, but suffice it to say, people will continue to adopt the fashion of the class structure they aspire to. I can imagine homes of the future where every attempt is made to conceal and integrate technology, where the wealthier you are the less machines and technology can be apprehended. In that search for the look of simplicity natural materials will become prized above the manufactured. That’s good for the woodworker, no?
In the present age of resource abundance and availability you wind up with crazy shit like mansion sized sprawling and architectural log homes, quite ostentatious, but the pattern language still fits. Perhaps the best extant example is Larry Ellison’s (Google billionaire) home in Woodside, CA, which is modeled after a 16th century Japanese emperors palace. The underclass imitates the upper crust, and that aristocracy aspires to the simplicity and ruggedness, not of the poor, but of a romanticized vision of a bygone past.
The wheel of the dharma continues to turn, and quality woodcraft will continue to have a future, perhaps quite a bit more so than the present. That said, looking into the future, perhaps its also a good idea to learn how to grow some of your own food, haha.