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The test of time

May 4, 2007

Of all the things that we labor upon, how many will endure even for a while after we have gone?   Which will stand the test of time?   Those that built the great pyramids, carved the faces upon Mount Rushmore, erected the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel tower certainly left behind inspiring works that will endure for a relatively long period of time.

For most of us, designing and constructing grand monuments are just not in the cards.  

If we consider what we do in our jobs, it becomes so obvious that little of what we do lasts very long at all.   My father worked designing textile equipment, but the plant has long been bought out and the work moved elsewhere.    The lifetime of consumer products is even less, going from “must have” to obsolete in just a couple years.  In what seems to be an exponentially accelerating world of the last 100 years,  about anything that isn’t as fundamentally universal as a brick is on it’s way out and will leave little evidence of it’s passage.  For those that work digitally, with few exceptions, the relevant lifespan of our efforts is measurable in just hours and days.

What, of the things we could leave our mark upon will outlast us?  Perhaps family heirloom items, that remain universally functional?   A ring.  Maybe a quilt.  An oak table.  Antiques retain the essence of what they were when they were first made.  Tables still hold things, just as they have done for hundreds of years.

My father- in-law, refinishes furniture in his spare time, and has really become quite good at it.  From an outside perspective, it seems to be a combination of knowledge, technique, and a lot of patience.  While it’s not high glamor, I know that he takes pride in his efforts, and as a result, pieces like this simple table will be around for many more years.

furniture-001-1.jpg2007-furniture-002.jpg 

I point this out, as I find it ironic that the more technology accelerates our lives and capabilites, the more temporary things become.   Lower technology, simple, “old school” things will endure for longer spans of time, and perhaps carry a higher average worth over their life span.   This table might have been $50 new, probably was worth about that in the condition in the picture on the left, but might now bring several hundred in it’s restored condition.  In another ten years, even fifty years, likely it will be worth the same if not more.  By comparison, a top of the line laptop in 1995 cost about $8000.  How much would you offer for that same laptop now, with 486 processor, Windows 95, and a 9.6″ color screen?  How about a big 25″1977 color console TV?  They were impressive and expensive when new, but quickly faded away to virtual worthlessness.    

Of the things that we touch, that we create or alter, which ones will exist as long or longer than we do?  Which will still be relevant in twenty, fifty, a hundred years?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2007 1:37 am

    I’ll share some very personal points on this comment that maybe I should keep to myself… but, I’ll share anyway.

    You’ve made one of my “personal & philosophical top 10 questions”. I grew up in a very Catholic family, but as I become older I’ve leaned increasingly towards Atheism. The most shocking realization abut this is the moment you realize that when you die, that’s it, lights turn off and that’s the end of the story.

    With that in mind I came to the conclusion you bring here. Once you are gone you only live through your heritage. This can be very broad. The things you say, the lives you touch, the things you do and create are all part of it. People will remember you for what you leave behind, be that material or intangible. People remember Ghandi for what he did, which was great and intangible, Stradivarius will be remembered through his art (calling it “craft” is too little).

    You’ve got a point with technology. Although I would state the same for *almost* everything mass produced, weather it is “technological” or not. Although useless in terms of technology I think the Apple I would sell quite well, because of what it means, and because it is unique and hand crafted. On the other hand, mass produced furniture (to use your example) will be worth little once their time is gone, no matter how well preserver it is.

    Weather there is an afterlife or not, for those in this world you’ll be what you leave behind, and that is one tremendous responsibility, if you take yourself and your heritage seriously.

  2. May 5, 2007 12:54 pm

    Esteban,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment – perhaps we can explore more through additional posts. For the benefit of future readers, let me re-driect slightly.

    1) I suspected that you were examining your faith from some of our other mutual entries that get at the heart of what we really are – i.e. the question, which then leads to what happens to us when we die – are we just meat and bones, and it’s “lights out” as you say, or are we more, and that which is left does NOT die. (This I believe). However, I’m not sure that I agree with the interpreted teachings of many organized religeons, they seem to have much of man’s finger prints upon them, and I think the truth is something more.

    2) I agree with you, that regardless of whether we are just complex animals, or contain and immortal and devine spirit, the greatest legacy that we leave is the effect that we have upon the human condition – what we can add to the common understanding of man in terms of science, philosphy, etc. Newton, Eistein, Pythagorous, salk, Oppenheimer, and on and on. Our legacy in terms of offspring can also be important, but probably is more driven my our basic programming to reproduce and propogate the species. All the higher valued beliefs around children spring from this primal, instinctive center.

    3) That leaves things, which I felt was the safest way to start the conversation, and therefore why I took the tact I did with this post. My central intent was to say, the majority of us won’t get to do something monumental that will ensure for hundreds or thousands of years. Even that is nothing on this planet – else we kid ourselves. In this century, things are moving so fast that new is old and irrelevant for most things in months and years. I was trying to illustrate this point by contrasting technology against mundate things of finite value like a table, and I was also indirectly speaking of mass produced vs hand made items. You picked up this subtlety – thanks for catching it. Hand made quilts, old jewelry, some furniture, endures because it was hand made, because it has utility, and because it is associated with our forebearers. Technology and the products of our increasingly WalMart society do not.

    If your game, let’s explore each of these 3 areas. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

Trackbacks

  1. The Challenge » Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
  2. Sandburford, signing off… « markitude

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