I tend to be a Luddite. I tsk tsk about the overuse of technology. There are things I would rather do by hand because I would like to know how they are accomplished, and those machines stand in the way. There is something going on here, mankind’s curious desire to be a maker, not just of practical things, but expressive things which tell a story. I was thinking about this because of cave pictograms I came across in a news story yesterday. They stopped me dead in my tracks to take a look. The paintings were simple but very expressive. Whoever painted them wanted to convey some truth about their life to whoever would behold the artwork.
The other stuff is not so mysterious. People make, because they need things. In cultures like the Vikings who whiled away the dark hours in winter by the fire, such handicrafts made good use of the time. You made useful things for everyday life. But... there was also a lot of time spent on decorative carving, beading, all kinds of aspects to the making that were unneccessary, but very human. We like to put some kind of signature on a thing we have made, it is innate in our being.
This morning I unearthed our breadmaker from the storage space. It was tucked away in a box along with other stuff we don’t use so much anymore. In that pile there is a preponderance of things come and gone like VCR’s and DVD players, all vanished into the annals of technology and its advances.
The bread-maker because I like fresh bread, and because I cannot bake it myself so I leaned on the machine to do it for me. I have watched a lot of bread-making but I can’t say that I am good at it. My mother made bread often, and my wife does it on occasion. It is quite a fine art, and one of the original home arts that we still practise that has not been done away with in time. It’s true the bread-maker is a crutch, but it has its charm nonetheless because it is mechanical and therefore designed in a very specific way.
For example, I was watching in fascination as the little paddle in the middle mixed the ingredients. It will put everything through its proper paces in a controlled and timed environment and then give birth to wonderful hot baked bread. The paddle has a funny shape which I am sure required a lot of engineering back and forth. The little paddle looks pretty specific, neither too long nor too short, and on a certain angle. As I watched, it pulsed, and gathered up all the dry bits gradually from the corners and mixed them in. Then it began to ball up all on its own. When it is time, the machine will also have a portion of its baking allotted to allowing the bread to rise. It is working with nature, even though it is a machine. Engineering generally comes that way, by observing and harnessing how things work as a matter of course in real life. You can’t argue with Mother Nature.
We inherit all this but someone out there made bread for a first time. He or she crushed grain, and figured out a way to work in nature’s bacteria that makes things puff up. They had to figure how to mould it, how it was better if you left it to rise, and how long it had to be in the oven. From that primogenitor came all the other incarnations of bread. Go to the local bakery and see how many kinds you can get - cheese bread, olive bread, sun-dried tomato bread, whole, nine grain, oat bread and so on. Those are the personal signatures someone else added on to the basic recipe. The first guy who made the bread had to go through all the painful trial and error and everyone else benefitted from his learnings. There is someone to thank, behind it all.
It’s like that with the bread-maker too. I imagine the engineers had to observe closely and they had a few burn piles before they came up with a winner. Now you can just pour the stuff in, press the button and walk away. Bread-maker - it kind of reminds me of that other euphemism… baby maker and otherwise known as a bun in the oven. I am a father of three so I should know. You also put in the ingredients and walk away for nine months while something mysterious that someone else figured out, does its magic. We live in the middle of such miracles. We have gotten quite used to the many things we take for granted, it is positively shameful, and something I’ll be thinking about while I eat my bread.