Study Hacks Blog

Adam Savage and the IRL Digital Revolution

January 29th, 2019 · 19 comments

Myth Confirmed

I recently started re-watching old Mythbusters episodes with my two oldest boys — and we’re having a blast.

The original series, which ran on the Discovery Channel from 2006 to 2016, was hosted by special effects engineers Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage. Curious about what happened to Jamie and Adam after the series ended, I did a little poking around and discovered that among many other things, Adam became involved in the maker website Tested.com, which was rebranded as “Adam Savage’s Tested.”

This site hosts videos which are primarily a mix of high tech product reviews and instructions for maker projects. My oldest son and I, for example, got a kick out of watching a tutorial where Adam modified an off-the-shelf Nerf gun into a 1000-shot blaster (see above).

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I’ve recently begun reading the questions submitted by members of the Digital Minimalist Book Club.

An issue that arises frequently in these queries is the ambiguous tension between the digital and the analog. I’ve been writing recently about the damage caused when low quality digital distraction push more meaningful and satisfying analog activities out of your life.

As I detail in Digital Minimalism, for example, one of the most commonly reported experiences from last year’s 1,600 person digital declutter experiment was the surprising joy of rediscovering leisure activities that used to be unexceptional, like reading random library books, knitting, or building something with your hands. Participants were often shocked to realize the degree to which these simple but fulfilling pasttimes had been pushed aside by mindless streaming and outraged commenting.

These observations seems to pit the analog against the digital. So how, then, do we think about Adam Savage’s Tested?

My conclusion: with great appreciation.

The goal of Tested.com is to connect maker geeks to the type of esoteric information that enables them to return to their real world shops and build a pretty damn good replica of the snub-nosed blaster from Blade Runner.

It’s a digital boost to the quality of their analog life.

More generally, there any number of similar sites, apps and gadgets out there that do a great job of taking things you already really value in real life (IRL) and then helping you do them much better.

To a digital minimalist, this is the main point of the internet: to make life better, not to take it over.

When people accuse us of being luddites because we’re not interested in yelling at people on Twitter, they’re missing the point.

We don’t dislike digital, but our definition of success for these new technologies is not maximizing likes, it’s instead increasing the frequency with which we can replicate the smile on Adam Savage’s face when he lets loose with his custom-built 1000-shot Nerf blaster.

19 thoughts on “Adam Savage and the IRL Digital Revolution

  1. Jemma says:

    I see analogues (no pun intended) to this in sites like Pinterest, although they can equally become sources of endless scrolling and vague wistfulness rather than actually creating the projects. There was actually a woman who did a blog series on “Actually Making the Projects I’ve Pinned on Pinterest”, which I thought was pretty apt.

    I basically used the internet to learn Spanish, and then moved to Spain, which was kind of cool. The internet is a source of tons of useful information when you use it, rather than it using you.

    1. Study Hacks says:

      The Pinterest blog series title is funny!

      Another example: in the new book, I talk about some artists who find Instagram crucial because they can follow artists who post their projects, and this provides creative inspiration which is *crucial* for creating interesting new work — enabling people to be artists even if they don’t live in an active arts district of a major city.

      Their Instagram experience, however, is different than most people, who just use it as Facebook 2.0. They tend to only follow artists, check only their laptop (it’s not on their phone), and just a few times a week.

  2. EA says:

    Any opinion on augmented reality? While some uses can certainly be useful (taking measures, trying stuff before building or buying it) It seems to me that it will be the next big distraction (especially due to video games), with the difference that it will make reality without all the augmentation boring.

    1. KAMRAN BIGDELY-SHAMLO says:

      As VR/AR developer, I see a similar trend that augmented reality is going to be THE next big digital distraction and unfortunately people might wear it the whole day. It could be even worse than mobiles in terms of distraction and controlling the user’s mind.

  3. TheKuboKing says:

    This is how I use YouTube for things like Judo. When there is a technique I want to learn, but want to see how others (meaning people outside of my dojo) think about the technique, I go on YouTube to watch World Champions and world class instructors teach the technique. Then I compare it to how my instructors teach the technique and see the common principles and places where they differ.

    The same could be said for writing. I like reading good blogs, and I often take what I like about the blog’s writing style and apply them to my own blog posts. However, good books are still my main source of inspiration.

    Thanks for this article, Cal!

  4. Jennifer says:

    I have always loved to sew and knit, but went through a lull in these activities in my early adulthood partly because I was a rarity (nobody else my age I knew shared these hobbies) and my skills had plateaued. E.g. I could knit at a basic level but couldn’t make a sweater that was wearable and couldn’t find quality materials for it, either. When I discovered online sewing and knitting resources – tutorials, shopping online for quality materials, pattern databases – I was able to improve my skills and realised I was not alone. Sewing and knitting returned to regular rotation in my hobbies and, with better skills and materials, they became more practical than leisure-only activities. I learned to make items I could actually wear. I’ve often thought it an interesting irony that the return of these old-fashioned analog hobbies in my life was directly influenced by digital information and online communities.

    1. Jemma says:

      Tons of new crochet techniques (e.g. the entire field of amigurumi) have been invented, developed and refined via internet collaboration!

  5. EA says:

    Cal – another question. Why the heck you don’t advertise podcasts you participate in?!?
    I just found out, by chance, your 1/27/19 interview at The Unmistakable Creative podcast for the Digital Minimalism book

    1. Nitin says:

      Agreed. I accidentally stumbled upon Cal’s appearance on Paula Pant’s Afford Anything podcast. Loved it! Your readers demand that you let us know, Cal!

    2. How did you add a profile photo to your comment?

      1. Markos says:

        Corey, you can create a profile on https://en.gravatar.com/
        Many site use it, it will match your email address with the one you use in the comment box.

    3. Study Hacks says:

      I added that “media” link at the top of my site so that I could collect all the articles and podcasts I do. Which was a good first step. Now I have to do the key second step of actually adding all those article and podcast links! Coming soon…

      (FYI, I’m recording something on the order of 40 – 50 podcasts for digital minimalism, so there will be no shortage of Cal content coming down the pike…)

  6. Mo says:

    Jumping on the bandwagon of pointing out awesome Cal content, he was on this “The Case Against Social Media” panel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0FWL954YWo

    I think if we just keep doing this for him, he can forgo hiring his own marketing team lol.

    1. EA says:

      I watched it last week and I was somewhat disappointed. Not at Cal but at the host which tried to make it more a political panel than an actual panel on social media and enjoyed more the political rants of the other guest than Cal’s opinions.
      Cal barely talked and the questions he was asked were way too generic for the depth of what he’s trying to accomplish.
      The only good thing about that panel is that I noticed how Cal avoided political/partisan discussions, which leads me to believe that he doesn’t want to run for office 🙂

  7. Avi Mohan says:

    The timing of this article couldn’t be more perfect!! Having read a quote by James Rhodes on one “zenpencils.com,” I decided to replace my YouTube video surfing time with one hour of learning classical (vocal) music. The joy and peace this habit has brought me is truly hard to describe in words. What’s more, I feel much more rested afterwards and am able to focus much better on my research.

    Link to quote: https://zenpencils.com/comic/rhodes/

    1. EA says:

      I am very tempted by Masterclass for this reason… and they’re adding David Lynch as one of the teachers!!!!

  8. JD says:

    There is a great book by Matthew Crawford about this very subject — Shop Class as Soul Craft — great read and very insightful into the analog/digital debate and divide!

    1. EH says:

      Loved that book!!

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