My friend Brian has worked as a crane engineer for over four decades. He told me that in the early days, to erect a tower crane on a building site required considerable skill, experience and chalk lines. Now, a computer does all the calculations. The plus side is that there’s less room for error. What is lost is pride in a job well done due to your skill and experience. Brian and I sat in the pub and moaned, like the grumpy old men we are, about how so many skills are being taken away from people nowadays. We shared our concern about jobs that are going this way, where the human input becomes not much more than following the computer’s instructions or simply pressing the right button to make the machine do the actual work.
Last year I spent my birthday money on a moka pot and a hand grinder. On Saturday mornings, I grind just the right amount of coffee beans. (I’ve already set up the grinder, through a process of trial and error – not too coarse, not too fine). I take care not to turn the grinder too fast because I don’t want to burn the coffee. I load up the funnel basket thingy with the ground coffee and set the pot on the stove, on a low light because it’s only a little pot and – again – I don’t want to burn the coffee. The whole process takes about 15 minutes before the coffee is ready to pour into my little cup that Mrs M made for me.
There are machines that would make me a double espresso in a fraction of the time. But part of the pleasure of drinking this coffee is the pleasure of the process of making it. I made it, with care and some skill and with willingness to wait.
In the age of now, insisting on doing something slowly, and doing it myself when a machine could do it quicker and, possibly, better, seems counter-cultural and subversive. I’m a rebel, resisting the system with my little moka pot, holding onto my humanity against the machines that would rob me of my dignity and self-respect and turn me into a button-pushing consumer of efficiency. I don’t mind waiting. Waiting time is not wasting time but it’s a gift when I can stop and reflect and notice stuff and appreciate the world. I think life is better when it’s lived at three miles per hour. Whether it’s cranes or coffee or tuning a guitar or navigating with a map or making bread (that’s a new year resolution by the way – the machine is too easy!) – I want to hold onto my humanity and what few skills I have. I don’t want to contract out more of my life than I must – I want to live it as fully as I can. With a lovely coffee.