The Tower of Babel: David Gauntlett’s “Making is Connecting”
I have a strategy when it comes to books and reading that can best be described as “hoard and aspire to read all of…eventually.” During my senior year of college, I wrote a thesis for my major in anthropology and stockpiled library books like a fiend; some, I never even opened, but it was so satisfying to amass the musty old books into a stack of possibility and ideas on my drafting table. I started to casually refer to the behemoth as the “Tower of Babel.” While the reference was definitely off, my roommate (who is Hindu and actually knows Bible stories; I was raised heathen) didn’t want to burst my bubble, and the moniker stuck.
What I do know about the Tower of Babel as it appears in Genesis is that it has everything to do with human arrogance and the confounding of languages – both things relevant to the numpie take on life. So, I’ll be using this tagline to head up posts containing thoughts on the things I’ve been reading. But in a further twist on the original meaning, I’d like to suggest that perhaps much of the hubris in our contemporary American cultural milieu has to do with privileging language over action. We’ll never reach the heavens by talking about it, y’know?
Making is Connecting by David Gauntlett
In the summer after I graduated, I read Making is Connecting: the social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0 by David Gauntlett (Polity, 2011). Of the stash of books I got to celebrate my ability to suddenly read whatever the hell I wanted, I was most excited about this one. Truthfully, it was kind of a let down, but still good and relevant thinking when I step back and consider the gist of the whole thing. It’s an important project and group of ideas to take on together, even if the execution is lacking.
Gauntlett (a professor of media and communications at the University of Westminster, UK) uses the book to connect theorists John Ruskin and William Morris of the Arts & Crafts Movement with contemporary creativity and its place in today’s world. This includes current crafting, as well as online creative projects (especially those made with easy-to-use platforms such as YouTube, Flickr, and WordPress). An optimistic and affirming take on the possibilities of Web 2.0, in which content is often user-created (if not open-source), Gauntlett highlights the active and engaged nature of exchanging information online, as opposed to the passive manner in which we get news and entertainment from television. Online networking capabilities, he notes, also often facilitate groups of people to join together in the real world in an unprecedented way. These activities, argues Gauntlett, are akin to the democratic ethos of the “art of everyday life” that Ruskin and Morris called for more than a century ago. He also says that this sense of connectivity is essential to our very well-being, even today. Bravo!
However, I had a hard time getting through the book. Gauntlett tries to be talkative and colloquial, and the result not only violates some basic creative writing “don’t’s” about redundancy and clarity, but in the section on Ruskin and Morris, oversimplifies the information to the point of almost misrepresenting it. His discussion of using YouTube and other information-sharing platforms rings true for anyone that’s seen their development and used such sites over the last several years, but lacks a substantive basis other than Gauntlett’s own impressions and experience, even though he cites a long list of stats regarding site visitors, profits, etc.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about the book. I discovered it courtesy of one of my professors, who sent me a link to this BBC Podcast featuring Gauntlett, as well as Richard Sennett (author of The Craftsman; more on that later…). Linking craft to contemporary sustainability and other reasons for the popularity of DIY was part of the idea for my thesis project as I came to envision it, but I was never able to execute that full scope. So for that reason, this is still an important book for me, even if it wasn’t the “clarion call” I was hoping for.