July 14, 2016
There was a time, not long ago, when communities produced most of what they needed locally. The blacksmith, the tailor, the shoemaker and the woodworker crafted their products with care as they were likely to end up in familiar hands (or on familiar feet). Through their work local relationships were formed and nurtured, creating tight-knit and resilient communities.
Many modern communities have lost these relationship-forming roles. Products are shipped in from across the world, made by those who the user will never know. The community weakens as relationships become superficial — no longer based on the interdependence of local production. Neighbors become strangers with vague professions.
The Village, or Township, is a fundamental pattern in human habitation. It has been said that “it takes a village to raise a child.” So what happens when the bonds on which a strong community are degraded?
I’d argue that we do not fully understand the implications and the symptoms of such an event. Could our epidemics in depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug abuse be related to losing our sense of community — sense of belonging? There are some studies that suggest this is exactly the case.
While support groups and social clubs can help to alleviate this to a certain degree, they rarely provide the deep-rooted sense of belonging that comes from local productivity. The benefits of such interactions are often intangible. But when I create something for someone else, when I hand it to them personally, when I get to see them use it or I get to ask them about how they liked it the next day, the relationship feels more tangible — more real.
Not to mention the environmental benefits of keeping resources local, decreasing the waste produced by moving products around and creating a sense of accountability for the means of production. When things are produced “way over there” we tend to lower our standards and look the other way when corners are cut. When they are produced locally, we pay more attention.
The good news is that we are starting to head back in that direction, though there is much work to be done. One particular technology that is helping to push this movement is the 3D printer. Incredible powers of production have been suddenly granted us. Much of what we are currently importing from afar can again be created locally.
Spaces for local collaboration and production, or makerspaces, are popping up in communities around the globe. Here locals can gain access to 3D printers and other equipment for designing and creating their products.
How might this work to regenerate those relationship-cultivating roles of local production? How do we get there?
We may find clues to that second question in initiatives like this:
While 3D printers and other productive technologies are now being used in some mainstream educational systems, they are also creating systems of their own. They are helping to shift the learning paradigm toward learner-centered environments where students can explore, create and collaborate. Here opportunities are discovered for using these technologies to solve real-world, community-level problems, to form enterprises, and to produce locally.
It will likely be the tech-savvy youth who will transform these fringe initiatives into mainstream practices. The reason is simple: it is a process of learning, of shifting perspective and of embracing new ways of thinking and doing. Young people have the mental agility to do this well. Their conditioning is more superficial — the roots of the old ways have not yet penetrated the cores of their still-forming worldviews.
With our growing awareness of this, we have an opportunity to support them to embrace this emerging future full of possibilities — for creating strong and more resilient communities, for taking better care of the Earth and each other, for living higher-quality lives.
It will require that we work to break from our own conditioning around the ways we are expected to educate younger generations. That is, seeing that we don’t have all the answers for them, that those answers they will have to discover themselves. Our role is shifting. One way to articulate this shift, common in some educational circles, is from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.” We look for ways to empower and support rather than indoctrinate and control.
Designing and creating the environments and support structures to facilitate this type of discovery becomes a critical focal point. What does the future learning environment look like? One thing is for certain — it doesn’t look like this:
We are all affected by the degradation of community-level relationships, brought on by the fact that we depend on each other less than we used to for our day-to-day livelihoods. Regenerating those bonds, and the community as whole, will come from re-establishing a sense of interdependence. New technologies such as 3D printing and others can facilitate this, but not without an effort made to flex our mindsets and embrace new ways of thinking and learning.