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A video by Adam Savage on his show Tested peaked my interest recently. Adam talks about measuring when making things. He is a maker and makes a lot of things and this time he was showing off is gauge blocks. Blocks of more accurate dimensions than most measuring things. He specifically focused on the margin for error in different measuring tools (the line on a tape measure, the tick marks on a caliper. And these margins for error got smaller and smaller as he brought out more tools, some measuring in slightly different ways. One of which need a really flat table of ground marble (the reference surface – i.e. an attempt at ‘true level’; see Figure 1).

Morty experiences true level.

Figure 1: Rick & Morty True level scene. “Artists depiction of the experience of true level”.

Adam talked a lot about precision manufacturing and having a context for work to be done, and not only that but a shared context to work accurately with someone else. Mentioned in the video, Carl Edvard Johannson, the inventor of the gauge block. He solved the problem of having parts made in different factories not fitting together so well. That sounds like something important when you are making things at every level of precision. Having a common reference point, one that can even change with the environmental factors, seems to be a core point with all human interactions. Maybe thats a stretch from machined parts to human collaboration but bear with me.

Humans have, arguably, been collaborating for roughly 10 000 years. In that time we have examples of a few of that have left us remnants we can see and measure. We have created monuments and cities the world over, and in the last 100 or so years we invented gauge blocks. There are likely many more examples of a shared context, I can think of a few now. A shared value (money – coins, shells, knotted rope, etc), a shared language (common words and share ideas packed into small, vibrational chunks), we have a shared desire to be together, to congregate in villages, towns, cities and more recently, countries. In the span of all this time, it seems we have been making things for all of it. One of our defining factors as humans is making things. We are the tool users, and we have used those tools to expand our shared word bank with concepts (you can read this as a shared culture, shared ideas, shared actions or a collection of items, like books, or the more abstract library, the internet). All with a shared context, or really, many shared contexts.


When we used to live in communities of 100s, being rejected by your peers, being threatened with banishment, actually was a real threat. Today, in our groups of millions, it seems less so on paper, but maybe still a fear inside. Our shared context seems to be expanding, and changing and beginning to encompass the entire world, yet we have the same starting material of a human being. Our bodies are remarkably the same as they were 10 000 years ago. As one would expect, certain groups stick together while others part ways. Granulating like the sand in a castle on the beach. The context changes as it interacts with other contexts, ideas and the people who embody them. As an example, my imagining of a rock is different from years, even if it is the same word we both understand. That is the nuance of context. We are still humans having relationships with each other, whether that is shared language or shared blocks of material that help us make things.

Adam mentioned how measurements change in reference to a context. Like how a beach changes shape depending on the height at which you measure it (and arguably the time at which you measure it). This nuance of our context and how we communicate is very important. It shapes our thoughts, feelings and actions. It explains to me why having access to a global library of the internet has not really brought with it the change in education I thought it would. If we take the example of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, we know there are basics to help us along to these higher needs. Even this idea is nuanced, because, of course a human needs food, shelter and community to survive, but we can also survive in incredibly adverse conditions. Not only survive but thrive. Yet our own mind can sabotage all the good we could ever do with our resources and knowledge. Even now it seems we have a lot doubt in our knowledge precisely because of the nuance and how the context is framed. Particularly the secondary accounts of tests and studies that are done by our, mostly reputable, institutes across the world. The difficulty is understated, the triumph overblown, the long and arduous story of people becoming masters in their craft seems to need to fit in a paragraph, a picture, or 2min video. I am, of course, ignoring all the long form content about all the niche, general and all things in between that have been gaining more popularity. Our shared context is like that, it is varied, and specific, accurate not, just plane ol’ crazy sometimes.

I get excited by the nuance of things. The story of the dueling of opposites, fighting to the end is not a convincing explanation of the world. The world is diverse, complicated, weird and changeable, in a context, a margin of error, a nuance, a dice roll of chance, and the stories of every person and every grain of every thing we can see or think. That nuance changes through our point of view, our own context. And with all this craziness going on, I still believe we are collaborators by nature. This is not always the case in reality as we see how competitive we can get, by the only way anything of value is generated is with a shared context, and an ability to share that with another person.