Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons.

During the Holidays, the subject of acquiring a laser cutting/ engraving system came up several times and it has me thinking about technology usage in artisan work. As a woodworker, I work wood. But to make wood into something functional or creative or artistic, I need tools to help with that conversion.

By definition (at least according to the Oxford Dictionary – Canadian Edition) “the study or use of mechanical arts and applied science” (i.e. tools) is the application of technology. Since man fashioned his first bone knife or earliest pigments for pictographs, technology has been an integral element of production and artisan endeavour. It seems that over time and especially in recent decades the proliferation of technology has made it an increasingly complex and exciting time to apply technology to one’s work. But, how do you select, learn and apply technology and to what benefit, and at what risk?

In my technology blog (The Devil You Know) I have explored these questions in a number of posts. In “Tail Wagging the Dog” I examined how technology selection and implementation can impact your business positively, or negatively while potentially changing its focus. This is the first time in a while that I have stopped to apply those questions to the use of technology in our artisan work. Given our pending decision on laser technology, it is a timely inquiry.

014ed82fb0bfc46502ab203c9d2bf502fc55d768e7My wife created a canvas print that hangs on my wall and reads “When I weave, I weave“. Inspired by Dewitt Jones’ story about a weaver who helped him understand the need to focus fully on the task, it helps me to focus at times – to sort out the immediate task from the (sometimes distracting) context, including technology. Of course, I am a technologist as well as an artisan, and there are times when the two are indistinguishable. But when I am woodworking, I am a woodworker and the technology is just a means to an end.

But then, when I am a technologist I must confess (as you may have guessed from my series on the joy of jigs), I sometimes see new technology as a new toy. Building jigs – the creation of technology- is often as satisfying as building the final product for which the jig became a necessary tool. However, when it comes to spending money and time on technology and tools, I am very conscious of ensuring the technology is beneficial. I am also conscious of the fact that acquiring a technology can significantly redefine the task and, therefore, could change concepts of who I am and what I do. For that reason – for the time being at least – I will continue to contract excellent laser engraving and laser cutting services from my good friends Trevor and Charleen Edis at Blue Crab Creative, rather than risking becoming a “laser artisan”.

Starting this month, we will try to dedicate a post each Tuesday to a discussion on technology and tools. In exploring technology, we will try to clarify the context including asking the questions: “What is the task?”; “How does the technology help?”; and “How might the creative work and the business focus change in application of the technology”.

How do you use technology? Has it changed you, your work, and your outlook on what you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the application of technology to your practice.