Disciplinary Actions

SIlhouette of a person in front of code projected onto wall

Something that I’ve heard a lot of colleagues and friends speak of during my life is the idea of practicing and improving at one’s craft. Because of my natural inclinations, the crafts that I’ve generally discussed…the crafts that I’ve practiced…have been writing and theatre. I can talk about both crafts in some detail, because they’re things that I’ve done, creative pursuits in which I’ve seriously engaged. I’ve touched just about every part of placing a production on stage, I’ve been published in various mediums…I’ve learned not only from academic studies, but from experience in both of these areas.

It’s my understanding that there’s a generally accepted logic that, after you’ve read a certain number of books on a given subject, you’re considered to be an expert at some level in the subject matter. While I find that logic a bit suspect (the number is always arbitrary, and it says nothing as to the quality of the source material that you’ve been reading…God help us if all “experts” in journalism were declared such after reading only books by authors like Sean Hannity), there is something to be said for studying something in depth, taking an interest beyond the realm of hobby and into the realm of a serious discipline. I suppose I’m able to speak somewhat expertly about religion and theology, because I hold a master’s degree in the discipline. I haven’t practiced the discipline of theology since grad school, however, at least not in any formal way beyond the ways in which we all practice it in our daily lives.

So, I’ve studied disciplines, and I’ve placed some of them into practice and called them crafts. I can speak somewhat authoritatively on both, but I wonder…what’s the difference between the two? Specifically, I wonder if this newest venture of digital construction, of building on the web, that I practice is actually a craft?

The idea of a craft carries with it something that can be honed to some degree of perfection. A person can be recognized as a master of his or her craft. I’m not sure, though, that every craft carries with it a discipline. Master carpenters and master electricians have mastered their craft without what we would consider academic pursuit, but have very specialized knowledge that eludes most of us. As with theatre and writing, we refer to artistic endeavors as craft, as well…one can practice them to a degree of mastery.

What I see in common in all of those examples is that there is a relatively static method of doing things, a set pattern with which one can become intimately familiar through repetition and practice. They all involve a process. The art of acting, the coordination of words in writing, all move in much the same ebb and flow from one project to another. Not so with technology. The pace of change is so ridiculously fast that there is never going to be a static referent to which one can achieve mastery, because by the time that point is reached, the methods and processes will have changed dramatically enough to be unrecognizable.

So, I don’t think that the web can be a craft. Perhaps it can be considered a discipline…perhaps. Certainly it’s a vocation, a skill set. It’s concerning to me, a bit, that crafts marked by long-term standards of excellence are being replaced by such rapidly evolving pursuits. That lack of longevity says something about our cultural identity, something disturbing.

I want to say that this new field in which I make my living is a craft that I work toward perfecting, but I know that it is all too immaterial, too temporary. Or, perhaps this is our new definition of a craft…perhaps the term is evolving. In any case, while it is it’s own form of poetry, and even though I believe that there is a right way and wrong way to do it, building for the web seems an extremely impermanent thing.

I hope that all of our pursuits are not as fleeting.

Photo Attribution: Nat Welch  under Creative Commons

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