Sunday, February 17, 2013

FOLK Journal Challenge: American Ingenuity

One of our followers on Facebook privately sent me a link from Folk Magazine for their Folk Journal Challenge - every week, a different question. I thought, why not? I don't see the appeal of every question, and I don't think I'll address every one they have- my right to pick and chose, right?  But some, like this week, struck me.

"How do you perceive American ingenuity? Where do you see American ingenuity thriving today?"

How do I perceive it? Loaded question to ask an historian, who sees American history full of it, from the first people who came over and attempted to settle - and totally disappeared - to the first fur traders and trappers, the settlers who settled "The West" when the West for them was still far east of the Mississippi.  It was in the people who headed out with just a wagon load of stuff that got lighter and lighter as things were dumped from those wagons as they headed over the mountain passes and couldn't take all that weigh, so when they got to the far end, they made do with makeshift tools and inventions.  Especially here out in the far West, when Plains folks set up a soddy, and to keep the bugs and dirt out of everything, women figured out how to hang fabric along the ceiling beams. It was using bottle bottoms in a frame to make a window so you go some light inside. It was befriending and learning from the local indian tribes and the Mexican settlers - people who had been on the land long before us and knew how to live out here.  It was taking existing technology and making it better, faster, more efficient - and you see that specifically in the gold and silver mining industry all over the west. Everything people did to survive and thrive when getting started here was based in ingenuity.

It was in keeping an open mind and embracing new technology - in the 1880s, the carpet sweeper and the first vacuums - oh, the ease of cleaning the house!!  Improvements on the wood stove, electricity, the railroad,  telephones, cars - each in mind to make our lives easier.  But it didn't stop there, because with each new idea, there was someone else who said "I can do it better" and did.

And now, in our time, when technology has spread so rapidly - in my life alone, we've gone from a black and white console TV and a rotary telephone that hung on the kitchen wall, to a phone/TV/computer/camera all in one combo that fits in your pocket. That you can hold in your hand. How much longer before the tech is like that in the new Total Recall movie, where the tech doesn't just fit in your hand, it IS in your hand?  Not long.

I also see the new ingenuity as taking a step back from all the technology to a reusing/recycling/repairing mindset that we haven't seen since the 1930s and the Great Depression. And World War II, for that matter. All around, we see people stepping back to eat healthier by growing their own gardens, and using their back, front, side yards to do so.(and battling their cities for the right to do so.) We see people raising their own livestock - in the city, in the country and everywhere in between.  Much like it was when my grandparents married; you can barely turn around where I live without another neighbor getting chickens, goats, horses.  Greenhouses are popping up everywhere.

I see it on Etsy, and Shop Delighted, and overseas on Folksy and several other sites.   Handwork has come back.  Knitting, crocheting, embroidery, hand sewing - making your clothes and your kids clothes, much as our mothers and grandmothers did. I see it in the sheer number of yarn shops around the area anymore, and the resurgence of fabric shops.

I see it in a resurgence of home cooking - an attempt to eat better by making your own food.

What's the largest difference here between the ingenuity my grandparents used and ours? This right here.  Blogs. The internet.  Instead of relying on your neighbors and family to know what you need to know, or your local farm extension office, now you can ask literally the world.  Your farm extension office is still here - but you don't have to go there or call them; they too, are on the internet.  I currently talk to people in Australia about farming and growing tips; they're at the height of their season while I await spring.  But they can talk chickens to me and seedlings, and so forth.  The instant sharing of information, patterns, recipes, thoughts.

I see it every day in the social media I use, especially Facebook, where people have pages just like my own, where people actively search out information to share on how to reuse or reinvent the items they already have.  They share stories of their own about how they built or used something in a new way. Or they managed to build something necessary, like a chicken coop, without having to buy any of the parts, merely using recycled materials - much like my own coop. And in sharing this information - me, a non famous nobody in the mountains of Colorado, connects with someone maybe more famous in the farmland of North Carolina, or in the city of Sydney, Australia. My sharing of what I did different with these useless bars of soap, or a bunch of over sized pallets, and showing that I had success makes other people realize that they, too, can have success - and suddenly, we have a world movement of successes. All because I saw what someone else did and shared it, and someone else saw my share and shared it, and so on and so on.

This is our new WORLD ingenuity - using people as the best resource there is.

There's my take.  And here's the link to the blog topic of the week list from Folk Magazine, if you are interested.

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