I’m looking to install a suspended ceiling into my 90-year old house. I could get a contractor in to do it but in a long tradition of learning other skills want to try it myself. More recently I’ve been doing less ‘heavy’ DIY recognising that laying concrete or building brick wall may be best left for those with younger muscles, or more talent than me. But suspended ceilings seem relatively easy and more importantly relatively quick to erect. Plus there is a puzzle to solve.
With the advent of the internet group memory is starting to change, along with spacial memory through things such as static maps and the like. I’m sure that there is any number of studies of the Google effect or how most kids homework seems to exist of searching the internet and printing pictures. But what about things we learned as skills and became as specialised in our jobs as individual craftsmen? What is happening to things such as problem solving, or doing things which no-one has yet done?
Take my ceiling-line-leveling challenge. I have to draw a line around a room which is absolutely horizontal and attach the edge trim for the suspended ceiling. I realise that the ‘professional’ way to solve this is to obtain a “self-leveling construction laser” which is a device that shoots out light from a rotating head based on a floating platform which seeks dead level. Now I just have one room and the cost of these is approaching one month’s salary, or to hire even for one day it is £100 – almost as much as all my other materials. Should I abandon my attempts to do-it-myself and just call a contractor who can amortize the cost of purchasing one of these over many jobs, or should I search the internet for cheaper ways to do it? Having searched the Internet I actually can’t find any way other than measuring from the floor or using lasers.
Which brings me back to group memory and learned skills. I actually do have a way which is almost zero cost, but the Egyptian pyramid builders thought of it first. They had the task of getting the base of their structures dead flat so that the enormous weight of stone above would look good from a distance – no cheating the Pharaoh. It is believed that they used the idea of filling small channels with water – which over a large distance self-levels – then marking the height and building from there. I want to use the same idea.
I’m not going to fill my kitchen with water like a bathtub but use a thin transparent tube. One end will be held at the right height up the wall, and water on the other end will self-level to the same height. Exactly the same height. Cost? One thin tube and the kitchen tap. The Internet didn’t (and maybe still doesn’t) carry this simple idea in a retrievable form because the group memory links aren’t there. The internet and present search engines don’t have the advantage of our electrical/chemical wetwear brains where memories are reconstructed as they are recalled, nor does context or ‘usefulness’ play a very large part. Most successful searches require the user to construct what they need in the same language as expressed by the writer, rather than the rather more messily architecture on which our memories are stored. Does this mean we need new skills, just like Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End, of people who’s role is to construct searches rather than providing answers? Good questioners, so to speak.