Some of you George Harrison, Beatles, and PBS fans might know that PBS has been rebroadcasting the 2002 “Concert For George” recently. Led by Eric Clapton, it served as a celebration of George’s life and music, and was held one year after his death. I may be a bit biased, but I recommend watching it. He was great, and the concert is great too.
I’m inclined to look at everyone’s instruments and playing styles during every live performance I watch. While watching this one, I paid particular attention to Clapton’s guitar, and, as guitar players are wont to do, paid particular attention to his pickups. For those who aren’t intimately familiar with how guitars work, pickups “pick up” and convert the physical vibration of strings into an electric signal that gets amplified through amplifiers, signal processors, recording consoles, and the like. Basically, they convert a vibrating string into an electric signal that can be sent through a cable.
What I noticed in particular was that after using some high tech “noiseless” pickups for some time, Clapton had switched back to seemingly “low tech” vintage-style pickups. I wondered why, after all these years, why Clapton would have gone from a “superior” solution to an “inferior” one. Perhaps Clapton simply preferred the sound of the old pickups, flaws and all. I was reminded of a recent quote from the CEO of Gibson guitars: “[The industry is] stuck in a time warp, and the ‘purists’ have a very loud voice…”.
When it comes to guitars, I’m one of those “low tech”players. Most of my guitars are old. I’ve had them for a long time, and I don’t see any need to replace them with newer ones. And I like that they offer a window into another time and place, before I was alive. It’s a way to keep some level of perspective on what and how I play.
I can’t help but draw comparisons to the sometimes-dire forecasts of architecture firms, and how the industry must update our technological strategies if we want to stay relevant. Yet many firms prefer to stay “old-school”. Are their motivations similar to those of Clapton’s? Does efficiency matter? If so, in what way, and how is it defined? Where and how can we begin to distinguish an old guitar from old design software, and when might we be able to learn from what came before, and apply lessons to today’s practice?
Is this the sort of conversation you’d be interested in joining? If so, please submit your Expressions of Interest for this year’s Design Technology Summit. Registrations open the 21st of March. The sooner you apply, the sooner you can be approved, and participate in what I think will be a very insightful event.