Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Motorcycle maintainance

Robert Pirsig's classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has influenced a lot of people's lives. There are come very interesting conceptual arguments in there. One of my favorites is the bit about how people can see technology as things that work and make sense or from the outside, as something that performs and looks a certain. If we relate this to Bowker and Leigh Star's concept of the 'Black Box' we see that this divide is highly political. There are enormous commercial interests at stake in keeping people on the 'immediate appearance' side. Those who see technology as underlying form have to be harnessed as employees and swear to protect trade secrets, lest the knowledge that is of commercial value be spread to the consumer. Barriers such as safety, warning stickers, warranties, special little screws that require a star bit (you can buy a set at your local hardware store, but they're not as common as normal screw drivers) and jargon are all barriers that must be overcome in order to see underlying form. They have all been proliferated and strengthened since the time of Pirsig's writing. Commerce has grown progressively smarter, when it comes to the protection and regulation of knowledge.

As consumers, on the other hand, we have a great deal to gain from crossing the barriers and seeing underlying form. Just as commerce becomes smarter, consumers gain ever more access to information and we gain the ability to share knowledge and collaborate through the internet.

If 'Zen and the Art...' were written today, then perhaps it's protagonist would have to work harder to get inside his immensely more complex machine, but he would also be able to summon the combined help of motorcycle enthusiasts worldwide to his aid from some mobile device. I wonder what the results would look like.

More on this later...

1 comment:

  1. By the way, I was actually maintaining my motorcycle today as I thought of this.