Lesson 14: shudo hatul takle…

I am guilty of thinking that I know how the world works. Oh sure, I might not know everything, but I know many of the general principles and if I need to, can do the research to find out the details. Thing is, I sometimes get blindsided by ideas outside of my discipline, for example there are hugh swaths of psychology, social science, etc. etc. that I have no idea about and these are sometimes very relevant to understanding a situation. I might observe something, but not have a framework to really talk about or understand it. One such idea that comes from psychology is functional fixedness. According to wikipedia, functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used. We tend to approach problems through the frameworks and Architects and computer scientists, might use the language of a design pattern. An psychologists and engineers might look at problems in very different ways because they both have a different toolkit for understanding. If they are talking together and shaping each others perceptions, then I think that together they’ll understand what is going on more fully.

In Bangladesh if you need some work done at your house, you’ll call a mistri or tradesman. I think it literally might mean master, as in master of a trade though that sometimes might be a bit optimistic. The mistri will show up barefoot, with a little bag of tools consisting of a saw, a few chisels, a plane, or maybe some trowels if he works with brick, but there will almost be a hatul or hammer. A hammer is the tool of choice for everything. Bangladeshi’s have a penchant to pound. Specialized equipment like motorcycles and bicycles often needs some special wrenches to work on certain parts. However if you don’t have that wrench, a screw driver and hammer tapping at a protruding corner might work. Tools are used to death in Bangladesh and often don’t last as long as I think they should. For physical things don’t there isn’t a sense of permanence. Maybe it’s because things are changing so quickly, or maybe it’s because at the very core Bangladesh is a delta and even the land isn’t permanent. There are very few old ruins in Bangladesh. Other thinking on the other hand seems to change very slowly, for many Bangladeshis, no meal is complete without rice–without it, it’s just a snack. I eat a lot of Bangladeshi food, but when I try to share dishes from other places I’ve lived, it often goes unappreciated. I’ve heard it said by Bangladeshi’s, “your food is not suitable for us.” From my perspective, what Bangladeshi’s consider suitable food, is very limited.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a certain amount of functional fixedness that is required in society. It allows one to make assumptions that form the basis of further development. Without a core foundation of assumptions or design patterns, it is difficult to design or build upon previous work and a project that makes sense when it was started can very quickly become irrelevant when those assumptions become invalid. To compensate, projects either need to be over engineered or restarted and both drastically increase costs. Sustainable technology work is in many ways on the edge. Sustainability implies a very long time, yet we talk about technology as having a lifespan, often very short. Most new technology, either the product or the idea behind it, doesn’t come from Bangladesh, and importing it without adaptation often puts it into conflict with local thinking and structures. When it comes to technology, I understand many ideas that are simply absent in most of Bangladesh, and am often asked to share them, but it’s difficult because often they are premature and simply won’t work here or if they did would require too much time or expense to get working. The idea behind sustainable technology is to bring wisdom rather than just knowledge and that is much more challenging. I’ve had conversations about how tools improperly used soon become noshto or broken and I’ve tried using the phrase. “shudo hatul takle, shop shamosha perekei moto decade” – If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. While I think it’s grammatically correct, all I get is blank stares. I guess the idiom doesn’t translate.

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