"The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses."
I greatly enjoyed this essay by Matthew B. Crawford, which is adapted from his book "Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work." Crawford is highly educated and has worked in information economy jobs and the sort of jobs you learn to do in shop class. He's got a lot to say about what these different kinds of jobs have to offer. I do have 3 criticisms, however.
1. Crawford's hands-on real-world job is working in his own business as a motorcycle mechanic and his reward-for-going-to-college job was cranking out abstracts of scholarly articles that he couldn't understand for $23,000 a year. So the "real world" job was particularly good and the "information" job was particularly bad. You've got to concede that there are plently of good, bad, and middling jobs in both categories and to match up 2 good ones or 2 bad ones or 2 middling ones to make a fair comparison about what different sorts of work do to your soul.
2. Crawford had a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago, so he is not just another guy that got shuffled into college on the theory that the whole economy is going to be about knowledge and you're going to have to fit into it. He had big hopes of an academic career, and ending up in that article-summarizing job must have hurt him in ways that have little to do with how average guys who could have learned trades feel when they end up slotted into Dilbert cubicles. Now, the plight of those average guys is tremendously important, but Crawford is not one of those guys. His experience was different. He belonged in a university, but the job market in academia is tough.
3. Crawford has written a book about it all, and book-writing is an "information" job. So he can't really say that working with your hands is completely fulfilling. He had to think about and analyze his experience and make it into an intellectual project. That's fine, but this making it into a book is a proper part of the story about his soul that he wants to tell. It's not in the essay. Maybe it's in the book.