how to see the world through a life-/thing-making lens

I’m really fascinated by how the concept of life-making vs thing-making has put the world in sharp relief for me.I’m now able to categorize stuff into the two buckets, and figure out why some things struggle so much more than others.

First of all, thing-making can also be read as “profit-making”. They are the same, but the latter sounds more crass.

Second of all, there are actually three buckets:

Bucket 1: Thing-making i.e. making for the sake of profit

Thing-making is usually a transactional/conditional activity. You do it expecting something in return.

  • Chasing growth for the sake of growth (company share values, chasing more user adoption of a product)
  • Taking “free” things and repackaging it to sell it again (bottled water, bio-engineered seeds, your onine data)
  • Solving problems with the same thinking that caused it in the first place (EV cars, algorithmic moderation of online social media)
  • Optimization by removing humans from the equation (machine-made replication of original human work)

Bucket 2: Life-making i.e. making for the sake of life-enrichment

Life-making is usually an unconditional activity. You do it for the sake of doing it.

  • making and fixing things yourself (DIY)
  • growing more than you can eat (so you end up sharing)
  • throwing neighbourhood block parties (meeting new people)
  • decorating a space (creating comfort)
  • collecting and building Lego sets (satisfying an obsession)
  • raising a family (the ultimate life-making)

Bucket 3: Activities that straddle life-making and thing-making

Some life-making activities attempt to cross the line and become thing-making activities. However, for whatever reason, they often struggle to be fairly compensated within a thing-making world.
My theory is that 
the more an activity is purely defined as life-making, the harder it is to convert to an equivalent thing-making value that both sides of the transaction are satisfied with.

  • Restaurants and hospitality (one of the original life-making activities that crossed the chasm towards thing-making)
  • Healthcare (one of the most basic forms of life-making that struggles with proper distribution to those who need it the most, and with proper pay of less professionalized providers)
  • Arts and culture (the creation of art and culture are both deeply life-making activities, and is often undersold in a thing-making world)
  • Design (creating good designs is an act of life-making, but often the pay is not commensurate with the thing-making value that it generates)
  • Retail/Grocers (food is a life-making thing being sold in a thing-making enterprise)

My takeaway from this is that thing-making activities can easily be made consistent across situations, and can be quantified by how much time or money. But life-making activities are rarely comparable. For example, the work of one artist can be vastly different in valuation than the work of another artist, even though they put in the same amount of time, money, and effort. There can be huge disagreement in compensation due to differing opinions on the “value” of the end result.

I have no answers. All I know is that this is a current dilemma between thing-making and life-making activities, and that life-making activities ought to be less punished for how incompatible they are in our thing-making dominated world.

Original tweet

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