On Obsolescence. This is Not a Complaint.

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This morning about 4 a.m. I sat bolt upright in bed when the bells at the Niederaltaich Abbey began making an end-of-the-world clanging. Instead of cursing, however, I laid back and felt a small measure of solidarity with the noisemakers.

One of the things I love about teaching (or assisting a teacher) is listening to the students discuss how they accumulate woodworking knowledge. During the last few years of careful listening, I can see how I – as a communicator – am becoming obsolete.

This is not a complaint. I welcome my obsolescence and am happy to stare at it in the face over a beer.

For now, the world belongs to the YouTube woodworker. Advertisers – even car companies – are pouring money into the sector. More important, my students’ conversations revolve around the personalities, projects and exploits of the YouTubers.

This is not a complaint. Maintaining a YouTube channel is damn hard work. Finding an audience has always been the key to surviving in the media profession. And I’ve never chased advertising dollars.

Video is not for me. For me, the best way to learn woodworking is through print and in person. Video bores me to tears. (Yes, I’ve done it. I hated it. I did it to please people I like – not myself.) My brain sees video as inefficient. “Skipping to the good parts” never works. So I have concluded that I have a fundamental disconnect. I would rather read a book, draw on a sheet of paper or go to the dentist than watch someone on my phone build something.

It might have something to do with the way I view sports. I love to play. I hate to watch.

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All this is to say that I can feel myself hunkering down for a long winter. Print is – for the most part – in decline. I refuse to give up on it. In fact, I have structured my life so that even if print is flushed down the toilet, processed at a waste treatment plant and then squirted out at some sausage plant in New Jersey, you can’t put me out of business.

My plan is to make woodworking books until I die. Our audience might defect to the short-shorts and man-bun dancing monkeys, but I’ve decided to let the people in 50 or 60 years decide if John and I are doing the right thing.

After you’re worm food and cannot rise to your own defense, that’s the true test.

This idea saturates me here at Niederaltaich Abbey, where I’m teaching woodworking for the next seven days. For the most part, the world has left the monks here behind. And they live a life that is entrenched in an older way.

Brown robes are not my thing (my color analyst says I’m a winter), but yeah, I feel it. Especially at 4 a.m.

— Christopher Schwarz

 

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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64 Responses to On Obsolescence. This is Not a Complaint.

  1. jayedcoins says:

    Chris, this is way off topic, but I have to ask… you plan on seeing Malkmus in Cincinnati on the 23rd? I’m considering coming down from MI. Just saw him in Detroit last night and need another fix.

    As to the topic… video helps me a ton on certain tricky to describe operations. But I agree for the most part. Give me a book, illustrations, time to think, and a skilled friend to learn from. Video is a helpful fall back.

  2. Basecraft says:

    HI Chris for what its worth good quality print is making a come back in the UK. Your books are fantastic.The Anarchist Design Book is one of the best books ever written on woodworking in my opinion and I promote your efforts whenever I can.
    Dont die.
    Rich

  3. basignorelli says:

    The irony is your videos are excellent, your explanations are succinct, and you make foreign concepts accessible.

  4. hgordon4 says:

    Brilliant.

  5. Hi Chris, while I love all the books you have published and I will continue to buy more as they are published. I also agree a class room or friend, or someone to guide us in our quest to become good if not great woodworkers is a plus, but a lot of us don’t always have that option. So I feel videos do help fill the void, while they can never replace a physical teacher, they do provide a media that helps. While you might hate making videos, know the ones you have made were all great. I have learned a lot from them.The one thing a video provides is, you are able to watch it over and over again till the light bulb finally comes on, and you say I got it! As I always say, thank you and your team for all you do for the woodworking community, we do appreciate it..

  6. [As someone who has created quite a few videos in the past] I think video has its place, but I see it as supplemental to the written word. Complex techniques are often easier communicated in video than they are in print. And some folks just “get it” better from watching someone knowledgeable than they do from trying to understand from print. It’s like visualizing in 3D. Some folks can do it easily while others just can’t see it.

    The person doing the demonstration plays a big part in this as well. A good writer (like yourself) can describe a process in print so effectively that you can almost see the actions in your mind as you read the words. But not every writer can do this, and not every reader can visualize it, no matter how good the writer is.

    Video can be an effective medium if it is used wisely. However, a good video is at least as difficult to make as a good book or article is to write. Many YouTube how-to videos simply aren’t effective if one is serious about learning a real skill. Most are little more than six minutes of entertainment and product placement.

    Ironically, while I have made quite a few videos in the past, I prefer to write. While I’m no literary genius, I feel like I’m a better writer than I am a video personality. But I also sometimes feel like I get a better response to my videos than I do to my writing. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times, maybe the video audience is just more active and vocal, who knows. But I do feel like more people are looking for the instant gratification of a 6 minute video than those who will spend the time to read a 6 page article or heaven forbid a whole book. I prefer the latter myself, but I’m far the norm. I like to think, form my own opinions and figure things out for myself.

    • Bob Jones says:

      Bob, I’ve enjoyed your videos and can’t imagine how you get enough satisfaction out of it to make the time you put in worthwhile, but good for you.

      I think videos feed our addiction for short timeframe entertainment. I like video and print, as long as the content is good. I never trade shop time for either – reading and watching is only done in free time where I can’t be in my shop.

  7. DK says:

    Ditto! Man you hit the nail on the head, I love books, hate the videos. I’ve been building my skills since high school in the 80’s. Keep up with the books Mr. S

  8. Lane Carter says:

    I lost my wife of 44 years in 2017. Her and my love of books are visible in the 1200 plus volumes in our library. In her last five years she was unable the physically hold volumes so she began reading ebooks using an iPad Mini because of its lightness. I now have over 500 ebooks on our iPads. My point is that the availability of the written word, whether on a paper page or electronic media, is just as enjoyable. Therefore individually, whatever works for you is good; but as a publisher, consider those who unfortunately must utilize other means to enjoy the written (and illustrated) word. They miss out on your products.

    Just food for thought.

  9. When I was preparing for the practical exam of my production manager license, I would film myself setting up the spindle moulder for curved work. It helped, but books are so much more beautiful.

  10. jfthomas70 says:

    I’m an old coot, and love books. But I will tell you that some videos see great. I can’t go to schools but I can view selected videosearch. They have helped me close the loop. The internet has been a great help, I can find different teachers that present information differently.
    Keep up the good work especially the research into history. We can learn a lot from the past.

  11. Ronald Stephen says:

    The Anarchist’s Design Book has a premanent home on my bedside table. I enjoy video and find Paul Sellers relaxing and inspirational but the written word has the power to provoke thought, it is a much deeper medium.

  12. tombuhl says:

    I recall doing a Danish cord weave based on a FWW article which had associated video. Found that I very much appreciated (and needed) both. Each had gaps or unclarified issues (at least for me). So the combo made it work. I love books but have to say videos (including yours) hit the spot at times. Thanks for the insights…this and so many over the years.

  13. Kerry Doyle says:

    When television arrived, ‘they’ said movies were dead. It may have also once looked like making things was dead, but the resurgence of young people making things is assurance that not only do our endeavors run in cycles, but the future of the craft of Woodworking is relatively secure. Another generation will need that information you generate, and will need it in book and in person because of limitations of attention span. Please forgive my stereotyping. My job for the past dozen years has been to infotain college students.

  14. Mitch Wilson says:

    It’s nice to know that someone enjoys going to the dentist. 🙂

  15. craig regan says:

    Personally, I’m waiting for the Christopher Schwartz hologram to appear in my shop. Is that still in development?

  16. YouTube? That’ll never last… 🙂

  17. occasionalww says:

    I eagerly anticipate the next issue of illuminati from Brother Shwarz.

  18. Richard Mahler says:

    Is there evidence that craftspersons who prefer brief YouTube videos are the same persons who are serious about honing skills for fine furniture and cabinetry? Not saying there are none, but are they the ones who would most likely buy a high quality bound volume if videos were not available for free? I prefer studying the page to watching a video. I like having the reference whenever I want to study it. I do go to the web to see what is possible and to witness a variety of aproaches, but this is only to satisfy curiosity and as in depth research. I do download LAP digital, but only when they are offered with the book order (I just never buy a digital-only version even though I have the 12” iPad!), but then I am an older person who has a love affair with books, with typography, graphics, the feel and look of fine paper, the act of turning pages, having them on my shelves, not too surprising for someone whose profession was graphic designer, illustrator and photographer who started at a drawing board and spent the last 20 years designing on a computer but for output to high quality print. There will always be those who value print (paper or digital) and no one who produces them with integrity and purpose will be wasting effort.

  19. xxxmike says:

    oH BS Chris! Your video’s are great! I’ve learned a LOT from your Blank, blank, blank videos. So quit whining and make some more – they are a great teaching method.

  20. Eric R says:

    I think there is a place for both mediums, and I enjoy each.

  21. Ed Clarke says:

    I purchase almost all of the LAP books. The hard copy books are permanent offline storage ( to use a computer term ) and the PDF files are working storage. I can keep a computer and high definition display in my workshop for reference to the files, but I can’t guarantee the safety of my books – so they stay upstairs in my library. In other words, the computer(s) are expendable while the books are not. I need both to be happy.

  22. As a self-taught woodworker, I do value videos (yours for example) because sometimes I see someone use a tool, slap myself in the head and think, “so that’s how you use it.”

    I was a technical writer for many years and the issue is how good a writer someone is. I don’t mean how fun or interest, but how skilled. I often read instructions that come with new tools and they make no sense. This is when I desperately start looking for a video.

    But when the description is succinct and accurate, the results are superior to those from the video medium. But unfortunately, that’s not often enough.

    • Andrew Brant says:

      This makes me think of Zen and the art of Motorocycle Maintence. He was a technical writer- so the communication is the most important part, whatever the medium. I like both, but with I also got rid of most of my physical books a few years ago in a fit of digital minimalism, only to now start a collection again.

      Though this time it’s not all dog eared paperbacks from college. I am really drawn to the publishing methods at LAP and a handful of other publishers if I am going to buy anything at all

  23. Joe says:

    Don’t worry, when the big sun spot heads our way, and we fry all electronics. Books will still be there.

  24. Dr. Larry Shawn Bassham says:

    Keep up the good work. I connect with you may be because I am from the Ozark Mountains of Oregon County Missouri. My father says I was born out of my era but I don’t think so. I enjoy all the venues we have at hand to learn and mature our skills in the wood. Though I am a world away from my roots right now. There is nothing better than to get out one of your books and try my hand at the joints that have made furniture great through the ages. I am not in the position to have a full workshop so I toy around with woodworking skills. Sometimes seeing improvement sometimes saying, “Man, I need to learn that better.” Being in China, VPN is the only way to get YouTube crowd but it still requires internet. The GFW (Great Fire Wall) has become aggressive in flipping on and off the switch on the internet with and without VPN. Long way to the bottom line of what I want to say. That is, Keep up the good work. PRINT, Video, Pictures, blogs, etc. We look to you for assistance, we look to you for inspiration.

    Sincerely,
    Dr. Larry Shawn Bassham
    A Missouri Mule in China

  25. leeboyz86 says:

    The bells at 4:00 am. That reminds me of awakening to the bells of a nearby church early in the morning while visiting my cousin Hans in the Sendling section of Munich many, many years ago. While it wasn’t 4:00 am, it was early. I really didn’t mind. In fact, I found it evocative. A charming experience that helped me feel closer to my family roots in Bavaria.

  26. potomacker says:

    This is not meant to be contrarian but I disagree with how this topic has been framed. The rise of youtube as an information source is less about the moving imagery than about the common forum and the opportunity for interaction. Television is dropping at the same time as the internet has been rising so one cannot conclude that video is the sole reason. The first bit of advice given to a novice ‘blogger is to respond to commenters. Interactivity is what learners and consumers of information primarily want whether it be from an author of texts, videos, or demonstrations.

  27. Finn Koefoed-Nielsen says:

    I’ve read several sources which suggest that young people are spending their money on “experiences” rather than physical product – it looks better on Instagram.
    If that’s the case, by teaching a class you’re whatever the opposite of obsolescent is.

  28. craig regan says:

    Most people watching youtube videos are just living thier life vicariously through the content creator. They experience woodworking from watching a few videos and thats enough to satisfy their need to be a craftsman (without actualy buying the tools or milling the lumber).

  29. Quercus Robur says:

    The idea/though should always precede the medium. If you manage to articulate clearly some though-provoking ideas in writing, having those re-expressed in some other medium does not necessarily have to happen “on your shift”. You can always let another talented YouTuber to do that. Take for example Underhill’s extremely short programs taken in (almost) one take – the limitation of the format does nothing to affect negatively the bursting creativity and inspiration emanating from them – and some of those ideas resurfaced also… in your books 🙂

  30. chris van aar says:

    just don’t die

  31. Enjoy the new dark age!
    “All that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
    The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
    From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
    A light from the shadows shall spring;
    Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
    The crownless again shall be king.”
    -Tolkien (the monkish man who despised the new technologies of his time that were making merry England less merry)

  32. Tony Zaffuto says:

    One must have more print books than youbcan possibly ever read, in order to stay at least thress paces ahead of the grim reaper.

    I have many of your books, and will continue to purchase said books, provided the quality level remains as is-this is a throw back to an earlier time of items not being made to be disposable and akin to the renaissance of hand tools. Survivors and those that prosper in both hand tools and books, are those that have embraced the solid, utilitarian nature of times now passed. Yeah, a leather cover is nice, every once in a while, but it is not as inviting as a properly bound volume that can be laid open without splitting, or the well formed cherry tote that begs for your hand.

    Your calling is print. Why? Because of the much larger audience you can reach and positively affect.

  33. Jake Seabaugh says:

    Nicely put, says the old man at the back bence. The next gen doesn’t even have a touch of gray in the beard! Remember thoses days, pouring over the black and white illusions.

  34. I think you’re looking at this at least a little wrong. I’d frame it thusly: Books are as obsolete as they are ever going to be. Youtube et al. are at peak relevance or still climbing, at some point in the next 100 years they’ll hit their downward trend while books hold steady.

    In 200 years, youtube will be forgotten and all that content will be (at best) sitting on tape that there hasn’t been any way to read in 150 years, effectively lost forever. The books will survive in a format that can’t really be lost to technological obsolescence. People will still be able to read them by picking them up off the shelf, or more likely, another stubbornly obsolete soul will be reprinting them.

    Keep playing the long game. You, or some woodworker-publisher who will be born in another half dozen generations will win in the end.

  35. All I can say is I’m one of those man- bun, short shorts, craft beer, coffee snob people that got into woodworking through your writing. (And Roy’s) and your writing continues to inspire and challenge me. Keep on writing!

    • CAW says:

      I’m not one of them, but I’m (probably) from the same generation as you, and I completely agree with your sentiments. I find that YouTube is more often a hindrance than helpful though; too much information keeps me away from my bench, and like almost everyone who works with wood, there’s no place I’d rather be, even if I’m messing something up.

      Thanks to all at LAP for making great content available, there’s a lot of not so good stuff out there.

  36. Arr Winger says:

    Chris, I like the books and I like your work; please keep it up. There’s satisfaction in a well bound book, just like the satisfaction in good joinery and hand planing. We have “better” technologies, we don’t have to make like this anymore, but people appreciate the soul of the old ways: we can build whole walls out of glass now, but people still want divided pane windows (so much so that they’ll fake the look over single panes).

  37. RoyJ says:

    For me it’s not one or the other. It’s all. I think anyone who becomes obsessed with a topic wants to immerse themselves in it in every possible way (Yes I do bathe in sawdust some times). Just like we search out different opinions or views (content) we look to different methods to ingest the content (platform). So, give me a book, a video, podcast or in-person class…Yes. I’ll take one of each please.

  38. calebjamesplanemaker says:

    I feel yah Chris…I feel yah. Thanks for the post it kinda brightens my outlook if I’m being honest.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  39. mmurrell says:

    To follow up on Ed Clarke’s comments…I utilize the same principle. I have my LAP books on a special section in my bookcase. In fact a 8’x8′ bookcase filled with many “technical” books. I love, cherish, maintain, basically “baby” my book collection. Have I read them all? No. I beleive the only books I have read cover-to-cover in the past few years were ADT, ADB and Jim & George’s series. Any PDF versions can be printed, in necessary sections, and used in the workshop.

    I also have most of your videos Chris. I thoroughly enjoy them and have watched them over and over, too many times to count. There is a lot to account for in the videos, wit, humor, passion, instruction, etc.. All of this comes thru in your videos. Yes, the books have hilarious quips and brilliant anecdotal passages. But, I’m sorry, watching you and Will building that Roubo is priceless. Further, the interesting phenomena of video (and associated media content) is that one can watch it many times over, and see something new; ah-ha moments and such. Hard to do with print media. Again, I do not bring my books into the shop, nor do I dare write in them.

    Being in the architectural field for 30+ years, I have experienced the change from “board drafting”, to CAD and now 3D design. I have watched and experienced the decline of brick-n-mortar bookstores, along with the reduction of books relating to particular topics, mine. When I do come across a good book, it is purchased and placed into the collection. However, sometimes I find the same, similar or enhanced information from online sources. The point to this, is often, both types of media become necessary to achieve the wanted, proper and/or necessary results.

    My solution has been this. I have my home setup such that I can view content most anywhere. No, this does not involve silvery tablets devices that shall not be named. Since my home is my office, I have a central server that feeds several computer workstations. However, this server also feeds several “tv” screens as well. I can “work” sitting, standing, in this or that room, without being tethered to a desk. Furthermore, I can go into my workshop (garage) and turn on my Schwarz channel, watch particular scenes of video or read sections of PDF, etc.. All while never dragging my book thru glue or some other mishap. Obviously, said videos are paused when sharp tools are in hand or plugged in.

    A quick aside. I do this with music as well. I buy the physical CD, burn it, and keep in a library. I now have the best, and convenience, of both worlds.

    In closing, I love the books, for too many reasons to list here. And, I love the videos. I wish and hope you do more. You may hate the camera, but I don’t see it. The camera loves you. Believe me, you do a much better job than others.

    btw, I read earlier that The Mechanic’s Companion is forthcoming. Well, damn! I purchased a used copy a few weeks back. While, my copy is good, I bet that I’ll be at the ordering page for your higher quality version.

  40. I’ve also been hearing about the demise of print for years now. Heck, I even mentioned it a few times. So also not a fan of video. What I did instead. Launched a new woodworking magazine. Is this a contrarian move or what?

  41. Dennis Yanan says:

    So, you are this era’s equivalent of the Bookleggers in A Canticle for Leibowitz? Keeping knowledge alive in the face of adversity, except in your case its knowledge that can’t necessarily be communicated through video. BTW – i also agree with you on the videos, i start to nod off about 5 minutes into most of them.

  42. Andrew Beelen says:

    I love posts like this…they’re very thought provoking. That’s the very reason I prefer books…the simple format of words on a page forces me to think. As I read the written words, images form in my mind about the topic. For example, if I’m reading an instructional chapter on planing rough stock, as I read, images form in my mind based on lumber I may have placed on my bench, the tools I use, and even placing myself in my shop with my tools in my hands. After having visualized myself performing the task while reading the instruction about it, the next thing to do is get out in the shop and do it.

    Now what if I watched a video on the same topic? I would be watching someone talking about and demonstrating the task using their tools in their shop. Their shop may be set up in a way that I could not work, they may be using tools that I don’t have and may be unfamiliar with, and some of their specific techniques may be foreign or confusing to me, and may confuse or frustrate me if I were to try them. Don’t get me wrong, it can be good to try new methods, but with experience we will gain discernment as to which new methods are worthy of experimentation.

    As for classes, I would love to take them, but don’t have the time or money with my current responsibilities.

    What I’ve described works for me because of the way my brain is wired, but for someone else, this may not work at all. Every means of communication will always have a place, but the demand will vary. I’ll always be a proponent for high quality printed books, and will encourage woodworkers to try not only new methods of working, but new methods of learning. Only by mastering our methods of working and learning, will we master our craft.

    “Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the divine.” – Ludwig van Beethoven

  43. Jared Tohlen says:

    I hear you, and am with you. But, for what it’s worth, I found you through a trial of Pop Wood’s video library. I think I watched every video with you in it at least once during that short trial. It jump-started my journey in this hobby and everything that has followed.

  44. As a member of the last generation to grow up without the luxury of widespread internet, I feel a lot of nostalgia from reading this post. I agree with others here in the comments who have added that the printed word is going nowhere anytime soon.
    There’s just something in the turning of pages that’s much more cathartic than staring at a screen, but there is much I have learned through videos online that I would not have learned otherwise; due to lack of resources or knowledgeable folk in the area.

    As much of a plague YouTube seems to be on education currently, I think that after this big ‘boom’ there will certainly be a slowing down of its growth as knowledge of all the various crafts are more widespread. I’d like to think that seeking out mentors and masters and getting that in-person feedback is important, which is precisely what learning solely via video lacks.

    As far as obsolescence goes, it seems to me that you are far from it.

  45. craig regan says:

    The book is always better than the movie.

  46. Simon Stucki says:

    I enjoy a good youtube video very much, but that for me that doesn’t mean that books are obsolete! I don’t know what is better for me in terms of how much I learn, I haven’t thought about that enough, right now it feels like it’s just two different things. But books (especially such beautiful and well made books like the ones from lostartpress) are a something you can touch and they work without electricity, hardware and software and because they are not only beautiful but are filled with high quality content they will be useful and meaningful as long as they and the english language exists (and I think many of them will survive most youtube videos by a long time and that makes me really happy. so please please don’t stop writing and publishing books!

  47. David says:

    Hmmm if it’s any comfort… though a man listening to monk bells at 4am may not actually want to be comforted… I just came from Greenwood Fest where I got to learn from phenomenal teachers — most of whom I first heard about and follow online. Oh yeah, more than a few of them also have books. And DVDs. Some of which I own and learn from.

    Maybe it’s more of an And than Or type scenario?

    And for what it’s worth none of those other experiences comes close to face-to-face time, not in information or fun.

    So cheer up Brother Schwarz, you may just be having a little weltshmerz, or maybe it’s schadenfreude… entfahrung? gotterdammerung? Ask around, they’ll know.

    David

  48. mike says:

    Sports are a good analogy. There are far more people who watch sports than there are who can play them. Same goes for woodworking. There are plenty of virtual woodworkers who never actually build anything. Spend some time on forums or in the comments and you will learn that about half the people who participate have not built anything in years (or ever).

    Print might attract a smaller audience, but it will be a much more hands-on audience.

    For the record, I was a terrible athlete, and as result I don’t watch sports on TV. It seems kind of self-hating to watch people do things I could never do myself.

  49. Barry MacDonald says:

    Watching someone talk at their phone in selfie mode is a great way to learn woodworking! How can 1,000,000 followers be wrong?

  50. Barry MacDonald says:

    I sense some jealousy here because the Whispering Wood Guy has more followers than you?

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