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James Bridle’s Working shop

On Friday me and few of the GDS design team went to the Ampersand conference in Brighton.

At lunch time we popped over to the Lighthouse where fellow RIG partner James Bridle is currently a technologist in residence for the Happenstance project.

All last week James ran a Working shop in the reception of Lighthouse. As James explains, “I’m going to take over the reception area in Lighthouse and code in public. I’m going to code things to make code more visible, I’m going to print it out, project it, talk about it and interrogate it.”

James Bridle's Working Shop

The idea comes from this thought of James’s, “For a while now, I’ve been growing more conscious of the gap between traditional ideas of work and craft, and modern technologies. It’s not a new observation, but with the increasing fetishisation of the one-off, the authentic, the artisanal and the hand-made—not least by technologists—it seems worth worrying at.”

Last year I made this ‘poster’ after this tweet from Jones. It’s become ridiculously popular on Tumblr.

Less Typing More Drawing

At the bottom of the debate Phil wades in with an extremely wise comment, “Maybe you’re doing the wrong kind of typing?”. He is, of course, right.

Jones and I meant the email kind of typing. Phil was referring to the coding kind of typing. This highlights one of the dilemas James mentions, “If you go into a carpentry workshop, you’ll see sawdust on the floor. Work is being done here. You may not understand the work, that’s OK, you’re not a carpenter and you don’t have to be, but you get the sense that something is being done, a skill is being exercised, a craft is being performed. And at the end of the process, which is occurring, in part because of the visibility of the craft, you appreciate the value of a chair or table, not because you can make one yourself, not because you have any specialised knowledge, but you understand that work, time and skill went into this thing.

This is a problem when we come to contemporary, technological skills. It is a problem for the workers, because their work, their skill, their craft (and we will need to parse these words carefully), are not valued and appreciated in the way traditional work is, leading to both exploitation and argument on the one hand (‘why should I pay that?’, ‘why isn’t it finished yet?’), and a technological quasi-priesthood on the other, which does nobody any good. And it’s a problem for everyone else too: a barrier to communication and realisation of shared projects, and in the extreme case, a kind of technological determinism, with all the decisions made by the priesthood.”

Part of the reasoning behind that poster is that drawing looks more like craft than typing does. This is one of the issues James is exploring.

James Bridle's Working Shop

For me this builds on Jones’s thinking about seams. Beautiful seams. “Beautiful seams attract us to the legible surfaces of a thing, and allow our imagination in – so that we start to build a model in our minds (and appreciate the craft at work, the values of the thing, the values of those that made it, and how we might adapt it to our values – but that’s another topic)”

And there’s something in a post-wikileaks, post-Levenson world where nothing is private anymore. Something advantageous in running towards transparency and exposing your work in this way. Github and things are one way, simply printing your work out and sticking it on walls is another.

Maybe, for us at GDS this is even more important when your work is ‘owned’ by everyone in the UK.

James, as ever, is ahead of everyone in this thinking. And, as ever, he’s not just thinking about it, he’s actually doing something about it. Something you can see and point at, something you can go and visit.