Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

The emotional satisfaction of physical creation

Long ago, before netflix, twitch, steam, social media, broadband or even Tony Blair, I worked in a boatyard nailing boats together. They were smallish rowing boats. This was hard work, as was building wooden bridges. here is a bridge I helped build.

The Chinese bridge - Picture of Painshill, Cobham - Tripadvisor

And here is a boat I probably helped restore/build etc.

Thames Camping Skiff Hire

To be honest, it was stupidly hard work (often involving lying on the floor while holding a lead weight above your head as someone hammers it.), and not exactly well paid or with great prospects. However, at the end of the day, something got built. You could point at it, and say ‘we made that’, and there was great satisfaction in that.

I definitely don’t miss the physical work, although I miss having very strong forearms and being super slim despite eating like a horse.

What I do miss, to an extent, is the fact that however hard I work, there is nothing *tangible* to show for it. I can point to stuff I bought with the money I made form doing the work, but thats not the same. The work I do rearranges some bits on a hard drive, which then get copied and put on hard drives around the world, but there is nothing to really SEE. I cannot grab a hold of my work and lift it up to the sky in that dramatic fashion people do with their first child in classic TV series ‘roots’.

sidebar: Did you know who played kunta kinte in roots? Here he is from the series:

Here he is older. Yes really. Amazeballs…

Israeli scientists develop prototype of Geordi's Star Trek VISOR


I spent a lot of time reading about car manufacturing when I made my earlier strategy game, Production Line, about car factories. I also follow the progress of the electric car company Tesla, a lot, and have got sucked into reading about lithium ion battery manufacture as a result. I am now reading a book on solar farm financing, and solar panel manufacture, because thats the kind of person I am. And my conclusion from all this is…

Manufacturing is AWESOME.

We have gone through a big shift over my lifetime from a world where manufacturing was a big deal, and something people were excited to work in (my father worked in a factory, making various steel things), to a world where factory work is considered menial, and low paid and boring, and the smart people worked in offices…typing.

Now I know that there is more to computer programming than typing, and more to law and marketing than typing…but it still lacks that gritty sense of achievement you get from working somewhere where stuff is MADE.

Ultimately the real progress in society is not being made with an app. Uber is fucking useless unless someone makes cars. Deliveroo is useless unless someone is cooking pizzas. Facebook and Instagram are useless unless someone is making phones. Meanwhile, we all have to eat, need somewhere to live, need decent clothes and shoes, and a decent TV and we need power and heating…

I feel like society has lost respect for the admirable job of MAKING stuff. Real PHYSICAL stuff. We sit in our airconditioned offices looking down our noses at people who have to sweat for a living, or work somewhere with physical goods, without which our lives would be hellish. The scales have tipped too far and they need to tip back.

Besides which…manufacturing has moved on. Its not people working a lathe anymore. Here is a modern battery factory:

Someone had to design that, build it, maintain it, optimize it. This is AWESEOME. I would love to do this. I’m too old to re-train, but if a teenager asked me what industry they should aim for, I would be hard torn between tech (AI/programming) and manufacturing/logistics. I’m going to stick at programming for the rest of my working life, but I’m trying to get involved in another industry, one that actually makes things. I’m sick of just ‘investing’ in something built by someone else. Making things that other people want to invest in is the REAL hard bit, and I suspect the rewarding bit.

6 thoughts on The emotional satisfaction of physical creation

  1. What’s your view on 3D printing, could it completely replace standard manufacturing and if it does could we just print things we need or go to a print shop to purchase larger things?

  2. 3d printing is fantastic, but its soooooooooooooooooooooo sloooooooooooooooooooooooow. Modern manufacturing is astonishingly fast. Until thats fixed, 3d printing will be used only for small one-off things, because the space and resources in terms of machinery required for production is just too inefficient, even given the benefits of being way more distributed and thus closer to the customer.

    1. However, if you can 3D print something overnight and use it the next day, that would be as fast as ordering something online.

      It could even be faster depending on availability and transportation time.

  3. Having a 3D printer certainly gives you a lot of respect for machines that can consistently and quickly churn out several of the same item.

  4. The comma ai people 3d print their cases but that’s the only 3d printing I know of outside of prototyping/one offs. I think even then they only sell a few hundred a month if that.

  5. I totally understand and agree with you. On the other hand, my father (he is 65) thinks that programming and marketing are not even real work. I wonder what will people consider being “real work” in ~30 years when I will be at his age.
    The bridge looks awesome! So, can we expect you building something soon? :)

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