Carpet Looms, Power Looms

I found a common notion between Schumacher and Gandhi regarding their perspective on technology. In describing Buddhist economics, Schumacher differentiates the “carpet loom” and “power loom”. The carpet loom is a “too”l because it supplements the use of our own body for work. The power loom is a “machine” because it replaces our body for work; it is a “destroyer of culture” because it does the “human” part of work. In light of Buddhist economics, we need this “human” part of work because work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and must not be separated.

In a similar vein, Gandhi notes that “The machine should not be allowed to cripple the limbs of man”. He frowns upon cars because they do not satisfy “the primary wants of man”. True happiness, instead, arose from the proper use of “hands and feet”. He cautions in becoming a slave to the machine and losing one’s “moral fibre”.

While Schumacher describes how the carpet loom is seen as a helpful “tool”, Gandhi similarly compliments the sewing machine as a fine technology. On the other end of the technological spectrum, Schumacher notes how (under the microscope of Buddhist economics) the power loom is a harmful “machine”, and Gandhi deems cars unnecessary. Both discuss how machines can negatively affect culture and society by replacing the valuable work of people. The proper use of the human body and the value of good work seem to be the common denominators.

I know I discussed it above, but I thought this quote was too good to not post below:

“The carpet loom is a tool, a contrivance for holding warp threads at a stretch for the pile to be woven round them by the craftsmen’s fingers; but the power loom is a machine, and its significance as a destroyer of culture lies in the fact that it does the essentially human part of the work.”

1) When does a positive “tool” become a negative “machine”?
2) What is the “human” part of our work as technology workers? How can we make it more “human”?

3 thoughts on “Carpet Looms, Power Looms

  1. I feel like this is relatable to many shops on Etsy and other similar sites that allow people to sell hand-made craft items; sometimes it is hard to tell whether the item being sold was handmade or hand assembled. If something was knit on a machine, but the machine was powered by hand, is it handmade or hand assembled? If a piece of jewelry uses manufactured components, but is designed and put together by hand, is that handmade or hand assembled?

    The question of humanity in technology is a good one. Considering how much of our devices are assembled by hand, though, and the lives that it costs, I think technology is much more “human” than we realize.

  2. I think a positive tool turns into a negative machine when the motivation behind using turns from Buddhist economics’ practical balance of input and output and employment, to a fixation on the ability to produce more.

    Our sense of humanity as a “technology worker” is interesting to think about… I feel a similar sense of pride in writing clean, simple code as I do in making my own laundry soap, neither of which are liberatingly creative tasks necessarily.

  3. This raises another question, if we “humanize” our practices or tools and limit the scope of production, are we to rely on a large number of people producing collectively identifying with a common goal?

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