the knack

The thing I hated most about being a child in the 1950s was that you couldn’t just open the cupboard. There was a knack to it. There was a knack to everything. Nothing fitted. Nothing worked. Nothing did what it was designed to do without some further persuasion, the application–the added value–of massively embedded and localised knowledge you didn’t have. There was a knack to opening it and a knack to closing it again. There was a knack to winding it up, or getting it to actually supply electricity to the bulb or stick to the inner tube. It was just a knack. There was a knack to getting it started in the morning. If you didn’t have the knack, you were already in arrears. Your place in the hierarchy was low. The reproducible was, for you, non-reproducible. This wasn’t just some door your father had bodged, some deflated bike tyre that would inflate for everyone in the family but you. It turned out to be everything. Entire factories–transport infrastructures–entire industries–depended on people who had got the knack of not very well designed, not very reliable machinery. School was learning that to “to learn” meant to learn the knack. There were apprenticeships that taught only the knack, and indeed knackism. Entire disciplines–like toolmaking and all kinds of assembly–were run by instinct and by eye; they were run on, fucked up and then solved by the knack. In fact they had been devised to run on the knack; it was built-in, it was the crap code that lay underneath everything. Once you got the knack of it, you were fine. Until I found language I never got a knack. But I expect you knew that. A weird side effect of growing up without the knack was that I came to loathe even slightly broken or inefficient stuff and now have difficulty keeping it near me. I understand the problematics of throwaway tech, but I’m afraid understanding them won’t cure the neurosis. Next: rationing, especially of chocolate.