Another Ignorant Schoolmaster: The Common Craft Show

Curator's Note

The Common Craft Show is a monthly series of short explanatory videos produced by Lee and Sachi LeFever, available on and Their stated goal is to introduce simple technological tools using everyday English and a charming low-tech presentation format they call “paperworks.” In addition to the “Wikis in Plain English” program I’ve included here, others have explained social networks, social bookmarking, RSS, and, in the most recent month, a departure into eco-politics with an introduction to CFL light bulbs. The popularity of the Common Craft format has led to work-for-hire producing paperworks that introduce corporate products like PRWeb and Google Docs. This application of DIY practice to the “educational” or “lifestyle” genres, as well as the prominence of amateur-created (or amateur-seeming) “how-to” and “maker” video- and text-blogs highlights yet again what John Hartley has called the “transmodern” quality of contemporary media practices, where the line between audience and polity blurs, and postmodern and pre-modern notions of citizenship are joined. As the uses of television migrate to the Internet, auto-didacticism is emerging as a core feature of the modern wiki-life, and—if I may continue riffing on Dr. Hartley—learning is no longer simply a precursor to leading, managing, or joining society, it is of a piece with keeping up with the routines and procedures necessary to stay “in the flow,” especially as concerns the maintenance of online work practice and identity. It’s notable that Common Craft productions are not teaching content in the traditional sense--form and canon or, in Rancière’s formulation, interpreting knowledge to ignorance—-rather they present interpretations of tools, supplying technique, in other words, to audiences of various knowledge regimes but each poised, despite their differences, to read, learn, and do in one motion. This is an ideology nicely distilled in the catchphrase found in every Common Craft show: “there is a better way.” I don’t know if I’ve heard a better slogan for the responsibilities and anxieties that have taken on new intensity in the era of post-industrial labor.


Interesting piece, Chris. Tim Anderson's IMR piece uses another Common Craft video to discuss changes in accessing information anytime/anywhere. Every time I see one of these, I always think they should create a piece on how to steal cable or hack DVD encryption codes. What ideological constructions of digital DIY citizenship do you see these Common Craft pieces articulating? We certainly are encouraged to develop new skill sets, but implicitly, are we encouraged to maintain old mindsets?

I certainly see these pieces further codifying (in the cultural and the technical senses) that all-to-familiar sense of what technologies are for: best practices of the self, efficiency, minimizing conflict, and further defining the competitive spaces of society (legally, Avi, always legally!). I'm in agreement with James Hay (who properly should be credited here for his writings and many long cafe chats with me about this very topic) and his argument that there's a strong strain of neo-liberalism at work here. I'd be curious how strong others think that strain is, or what conditions it, but one thing is clear: we are meant to believe there is a better way and one thing better about that way is that, well, it's better!

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