Monday, June 19, 2006

Simple machines

The hill in front of the split timber and stone kitchen is covered with shiny SUV’s, rusty but usable cars, and a couple of minibuses. At the edge of the parking area, two feral boys with mud in their hair crouch over a rickety fire drill. Beyond them, a man who is a dead-ringer for Rip van Winkle talks to a smiling young woman while she unpacks a frame backpack. Everywhere, the air is permeated by the scent of the big fire being prepared for wet clay pots, just beyond the clearing.
I amble up to the big tent with the banner that reads “MAPS Meet Registration” (that’s the Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills group). The woman at the registration table tells me that she’s too busy to sign me in, but that I’m welcome to set-up my tent and come back after breakfast. As I head toward the camping area, I pick-up a copy of the weekend’s events: talks on fire-building, herbal remedies, tool-making, and primitive cooking, among others.
Over the morning meal, there are conversations about work, globalization, politics, and the environment. Once everyone is fed, there is a round of announcements, before the crowd diffuses to their respective demonstrations and classes.
It’s at the primitive shelter talk, where a congressional-staffer, her two sons, and a handful of college students gather to learn about fires an lean-tos, that I first make the connection: This event is part of an information system.
Indeed the compulsion to both seek and distribute information seems as old as the technologies of fire, flint, and fiber. Each of the presenters at this event are elements of a database that potentially spans large expanses of time and geography. In teaching, they are at once networking this knowledge and creating redundancy within the system. This act increases the reach of the network and helps to ensure that the information will not be lost as various elements fail.
I had laughed at the irony of registering for the event and paying via the WWW. What were people who light fires with sticks and milkweed twine doing with DSL? In spending the weekend among these teachers and learners, I’ve found that the differences between skinning one’s hands on pieces of flint and writing a blog are mostly cosmetic.

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