A craftsman is defined as a person who is highly skilled at a particular craft or trade. He or she uses a variety of tools to refine and improve their craft. That tool can be a hammer, saw, trowel or a grouping of specific tools, often unique to that craft. Mastering your tool is an important part of being a true craftsman. However, tools have limitations; tools do not know which fastener is most appropriate or where to place them. A hammer has no idea of the difference between a king or jack stud. It is the craftsman who uses the tool to accomplish a task. Tools continually evolve to make—and are intended to make—our job easier. 

The improvement and learning process of your craft is never ending. Top craftsmen eventually become mentors or supervisors to others. Imparting knowledge about the building code, which materials are compatible and problem solving are the journey and life of any supervisor. In the long history of construction, the tool has never ruled the worker. The tool was just a tool, be it an electric saw replacing a hand saw or a screw gun with more power and longer battery life: the tool is just a tool and subservient to the craftsperson.


The Universal Tool

Today, we have a new tool, and it is unlike any tool in the history of construction. Similar to the other tools in the past, it is here to help you. However, this tool seems to have reversed the role. A quick instruction on using this new tool is unlikely. You take classes on basic use as you are promised the time is well spent in the long run. Only to discover your tool has been changed and you must go back to school and relearn it. What tool in history required all this work?

If you resist the new tool, people will scoff at you. In conformity, you get the new tool, and you are cool again. Unfortunately, the pattern quickly repeats, you are out of date and must start again. This process repeats, even in the face of the tool salesman promising, this time it is intuitive. Do they know what the word intuitive means? Trying to fight the social pressure and resist change is really quite futile. You know because you tried and got humiliated. You know that either you or they are crazy. The frustration continues and no trade in construction is immune. If you have not guessed it yet, the new universal tool is the computer.

The Next Dinosaur

Computers make our projects faster, smarter and help us build better, or do they? I went to college prior to the computer age. Majoring in architecture required certain classes be taken. These classes included drafting, building materials, building codes and a host of others on hands on construction practices and materials. Classes in computers did not exist. Recently at an architect’s office, I was curious about the young graduate architect and what kind of classes they were taking. I was most curious about those classes’ basics of construction, practices, materials and details. I remember learning about bond beams, lintels and proper spacing of furring, fire ratings and sound control. I soon discovered most classes were replaced by computer classes.

The learning process for computers is painstaking and takes time; curriculums had to be shifted to make room. I have wondered who convinced the school administrators that these classes were expendable. I believe it has led to very pretty computer generated details that look great, but are either not constructible or destined to failure. I guess that opened the door for consultants.

I know we are not going to go back to hand drawn details, nor am I suggesting this. However, it should make us wonder about the tool that is now running our lives. We are convinced we cannot live without it. Even television commercials are created to mock us when the internet is down for short periods. Is it just an American thing? A recent commercial with the European actor Christoph Waltz seems to jump on board, wanting to become a slave to his device, to be like other Americans.

The computer is a helpful tool. I suspect, and certainly hope, someday it and the software will be as intuitive as we have been promised. However, making computers more intuitive may not be an issue in the future. I suspect young children today will be far more up to computer speed by the time they reach higher education. This could result in more paradigm shifts.  But for us, we are ruled by the tool and our IT people. It is quite possible the next generation will not even need an IT department as these new groups will be brought up on computers. The information technician could be the next dinosaur. If you have been called this by your IT person, have them read this article and enjoy the expression on their face. After all, they have enjoyed watching it on yours.