This is a comparative reading of between two authors Julian Orr and Matthew Crawford. Julian Orr considers, evaluates and interprets the jobs of Xerox photocopier repairmen in the book Talking About Machines: An Ethnography of a Modern Job. While Matthew Crawford in his book Shop Class as Soul Craft presents the distinction between doing and knowing within the service economy.
In his book Julian Orr identifies “a triangle relationship between technicians, their customers, and their machines” (66) and exposes a job culture that has evolved from this triangle relationship. While Matthew Crawford focuses on the underestimated human performance in America.
With great thoroughness Julian Orr illustrates the interaction and intimate connections between the technicians and their dealings with customers and considers the psychological effects and reactions of people in the described triangle. This aspect is void in Shop Class as Soul Craft although Crawford does portray how people relate to machines but mainly focuses on higher education and personal relationship and the differences between thinking and doing. The personal experience and interaction between humans and machines is the main focus throughout Shop Class as Soul Craft while using subjective language, while in contrast Talking about Machines Julian Orr is very logical in explaining the relationship between machines and humans and uses objective language to accomplish this.
Orr touches on the aspect of a “collective knowledge” (71) that comes from a well functioning social network among the technicians, this aspect disproved his first belief that some technicians were better than others until he discovered that when they would sit together usually during meal breaks they would collectively solve each other’s problems. The technicians could not individually hold all the necessary information on all components needed in case of an emergency, so the technicians evolved as a group and learned to help each other in such crisis situations. Through continuous interactions amongst themselves the technicians began to be organically connected and formed a type of community that became very efficient in solving problems. Technology via machines is changing relationships between people and linking them together as structural organizations. In contrast Crawford’s text seems to constantly steer away from this aspect and never acknowledging any kind of collective knowledge.
On Orr’s “triangle relationship” the relationship between the technicians and customers is quite interesting when examined. Since the customer is the most important ingredient to any successful business, the technicians make every attempt to meet their needs. Interesting what Orr says regarding the technicians workplace, “technicians worry more about the social damage another technician can do in their territory than about what might happen to the machine” (63), another surprise was the technicians motto “Don’t fix the machines, fix the customer” (79). Orr continues to explain the fascinating aspect of his described triangle between people and machines. He discusses that even when the technicians have disagreements they can still work together, but there are times when the machines are the cause of much annoyance and headaches and that some can become irreparable. Machines offer the technicians employment because if there aren’t any machines, the technicians wouldn’t have any work, in this respect the relationship between machines and people are much closer than what was previously realized.
Crawford in Shop Class as Soul-Craft, uses his own experience in life with machines and concentrates on the human machine relationship. He reasons that real knowledge cannot be learned by simply reading information from a book, but is instead acquired from a lifetime of experiences to be truly understood. Shop classes began to disappear from high schools in the United States during the 1990’s mainly because of the high costs to maintain these programs which may have ushered in the separation of thinking and doing. He concluded in his words “The work in the think-tank wasn’t work befitting a free man, and the tie I wore started to feel like the marks of a slave.” It seems as though Crawford truly appreciates and understands the value of manual technology and of machines and the experience and true knowledge of the matter from working with them which epitomizes the separation of doing and thinking.
It also seems to me that Crawford enjoyed working with machines possibly because of the feeling of working with them can be a valuable experience, people need to learn from doing and making mistakes rather than in the safety behind closed doors while reading books.
In the final part of Orr’s triangle found in Talking About Machines regarding the relationship between humans and machines is similar with the main point of Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul-Craft. Booth texts have a central argument regarding the relationship between machines and those who use them. A person’s work determines the work the machines will do and can provide an identity of sorts for the operator, and the technicians who repair the machines try and found value in their jobs repairing them. After reading and comparing these texts Talking about Machines and Shop Class as Soul-Craft, at first I couldn’t seem to find anything in common, but I discovered although they differ in view of the relationship between people and their machines the texts do provide an in-depth analysis which we can benefit from.
Now we have an opportunity to consider how modern technology is changing our daily lives and affecting the relationships of people with the help of this analysis between the two authors’ texts, Julian Orr’s Talking About Machines: An Ethnography of a Modern Job and Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft.
The final comparison and crux between the two texts is that Julian Orr’s described triangle offers a comprehensive analysis of the relationships among people based around technology compared to that of Matthew Crawford’s belief or view that higher education or sought after knowledge is pushing and or separating people from thinking and doing. Either way both authors present interesting and new ideas for use to consider.
Orr, Julian E. Talking about Machines: Ethnography of a Modern Job. Ithaca, NY: ILR, 1996. Print.
Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soul craft: an Inquiry into the Value of Work. New York: Penguin, 2009. Print.