DRMacIver's Notebook

A lack of shared projects

A lack of shared projects

I’ve been visiting my parents out in the country recently, and as a result I was talking on Twitter the other day about an idea I have from a book called “The Art of Frugal Hedonism” (though the idea is hardly revolutionary and definitely isn’t something I feel like I have to cite) that a great and commonly underrated way to spend your time is to have a mundane task to do with your hands while sitting around a table with your friends and loved ones chatting.

Their example was podding peas, in our case the event that prompted me thinking about it was picking and processing red currants with my family. Honestly, I think they’re spot on. Having the shared task to focus on made the conversation flow very smoothly, and there was a satisfaction to doing a task that would have been slightly tedious without the company. They pair very well.

This got me thinking how few things in modern life look like this.

One thing that’s interesting about it is the physicality of it, and indeed we don’t do a lot of work with our hands. Much ink has been spilled talking about this sort of thing. I too have read Shop Class as Soulcraft (and I suppose recommend it, maybe, sortof), and various takes in this space. I won’t be talking about that today.

Instead the thing that struck me as anomalous is that we were doing something useful together, and that’s surprisingly rare. We do it at work, we do it when living together as a family. Those honestly seem like the main widespread examples to me. I can think of a few others, but they all feel in some way unusual to me.

I’m not saying nobody does practical projects with their friends, obviously people do, but it seems anomalous to me? Like it’s a relatively rare thing, and it so easily gets coopted by work. e.g. open source projects are kinda this, but they sure mostly feel like free work rather than a practical project with friends done for our own sakes. Sometimes you ask friends for favours and they help you achieve something, but even that feels rare and socially discouraged.

Doing things with friends is certainly a thing, but when we do things with friends it tends to be leisure activities. We mostly do things because we want to spend time together, not because we’re trying to achieve something.

I wonder if this is related to the longing some people have for community? In Communities construct a sense of purpose I suggested that a lot of the function of communities is structure our emotional evaluations of what matters, and thereby construct a sense of purpose. This certainly seems related to that - trying to achieve things in tandem with people you care about feels like an almost central example of purpose.

I don’t really have a firm conclusion here. I just find I’m staring at this in vague incomprehension going “No, this must be a thing, right? What am I missing?”, and feel very strongly like something weird is going on here.