Looking Forward Part 1 was about a desire for something that one can hold in hand, today I’m wishing for something that can only be kept in one’s mind. I going to attempt to elucidate a difficult concept here and one that I play with in my own mind but have yet to clearly articulate. So, at the risk of heading off into the stratosphere, here we go!
Second Wish – A universal desire for quality
A recent post on The Online Photographer sent me into my thoughts again about this concept of quality. The blogger, Mike Johnston, asked readers to send in links of websites that the readers enjoyed looking at. Although Mr. Johnston’s desire seemed to be to find new photographers to show as examples of what he calls “random excellence,” I took it to mean a search for quality.
So I’ll postulate here and now that I believe, that as a universal guiding principal, that bringing more quality into our own lives can only enrich the world and, in doing so, come back to us, individually and enrich our own lives.
As this is the end of another decade, I think that we can look back on this decade and see a clear path that has been laid that is leading us away from quality. We have, instead, sought the concept of quantity as a guiding principle. We seek to consume rather than create. We are willing to substitute quantities of things over qualities of things. Yes, I do recognize that the quality of produced goods has improved and improved dramatically in some products in this same decade. But we still substitute possession of quantity over the appreciation of quality.
A New York Times article recently talked about the experience of the writer’s friend creating a marketing piece through the “new web.” His friend picked up images on the cheap from an online stock photo site, coupled it with very inexpensive work done by freelancers and created the whole for a fraction of the price it would have taken a few years before. This, the columnist celebrated as a good thing. He went on to talk about, like many economists do, productivity gains throughout the market.
I could not disagree more.
Yes, I agree that there are certain levels where quantity benefits us; I do not grow my own food and rely on large industrial farmers for that. It’s hard to be philosophical on a laptop computer without benefiting along the way from myriad forms of productivity gains.
But I think that to assume that there isn’t a point where one can say “enough” is to lose oneself in the process. And that, to me is the clear danger here. The loss of an individual’s enjoyment as well as responsibility to quality.
There are more humans alive today, at this moment, than have been born and died throughout the history of man. Today, right now, more brain neurons are firing, thinking, sensing, dreaming, experiencing, than all the cumulative thoughts of all humans before us. Yet, and you don’t need me to remind you of this, we still grapple with the most fundamental of human problems throughout the world.
We grow more food than ever before. We harvest more wood, use more water, energy, air and so forth. Yet, individually, we are less happy, less satisfied, less satiated. Increasingly we turn to the abuse of power to attempt to wrest meaning through forcing others to conform to our world view as if conformity to principle and creation of homogenized communities of similar belief will give meaning and purpose to the dulled life of this new century.
I think not. I do wonder though, if we instead focused on helping each person discover their gifts and then gave them a chance to express those gifts, if we wouldn’t improve the whole? Rather than a mass marketed inexpensive sweater knitted by bored machinery operators, woven by the tens of thousands and bought in a huge box store served by masses of employees hanging on with little to no hope of relief from tedium and boredom; why not a sweater knit from someone with a burning desire to create? Someone who gets up in the morning , fueled by the need to find the best yarns, to study and master difficult patterns, who assembles all in a garment that does more than just keep the body warm. Something that lasts for decades, each winter bringing warmth, style, comfort and expressing to all the heart of both wearer and creator. Art. Quality.
Today there are several cities in Asia where children sit daily, copying the works of the masters so that someone in North America can hang a hand painted Van Gogh on the wall. Factories churn out mass quantities of prints and frames so that we can go to Ikea, Target, Costco even and instantly decorate our space. And although the original may have had superb quality, the dilution across the stream of mass creation dulls the senses. As one commenter mentioned on The Online Photographer, it’s one thing to see Yousuf Karsh’s portrait of Winston Churchill in a book, it’s quite another to see it printed, on metallic paper, at its intended size of 20X40. That difference is, quality.
So this then is my second wish. That you find time and place for quality in your life. Substitute quality for quantity. Yes, that will often mean spending significantly more than you’ve become accustomed to. You can get a portrait at any one of the mall stores for next to nothing. Or you can get a professional portrait that will last as an heirloom, speaking across the generations of your family. You can put up a poster based framed image from Ikea for cheap and be done with it, decorating over. Or you can put yourself into the experience. Go out and see what’s available from your local artists. Don’t stop seeing, searching, experiencing, until you find something that so moves your heart that you cannot stop thinking about it. Something that just doesn’t splash coordinating colors on your wall, but something that wrests from deep inside yourself a sense that this gives meaning to being alive.
That’s the quality I’m talking about.