The Weekend's Television: Mastercrafts, Fri, BBC2
Virtual Revolution, Sat, BBC2

Industrial revelation

I don't know exactly when technology got out of hand, but I suspect it was roughly around the time when it got out of our hands – the moment at which processes and construction ceased to be about what one person could make for themselves and started to be about industrial processes so complex that no single individual could carry them off.

We got both ends of the continuum this weekend, starting off with the eminently graspable craftsmanship explored in Mastercrafts on Friday evening and coming up to date with Virtual Revolution's account of how the internet has alchemised human curiosity into one of the most valuable commodities on the planet. One programme stirred a nostalgia for the time where, when something broke, virtually any layman could see what had gone wrong. The other revealed an invisible mechanism of profit that most of us probably didn't even know existed.

Mastercrafts – slotting into that Friday night gap that seems to be reserved for the horticultural and bucolic – is wonderfully soothing, a celebration of old kinds of fashioning, in which three "complete beginners" are given a crash course in some ancient craft and then tested to see who has absorbed it most successfully. A small quibble first: I don't know what their definition of "complete beginner" is, but in a programme devoted to the art of green-wood construction, I'm not sure that a woodwork teacher and a single mum who's just put herself through a carpentry course really qualify. "Not beginners at all" would seem to be a more accurate description. Still, none of those taking part had ever worked with green wood before – or used a foot-powered lathe – and they proved to be just cack-handed enough. Not so good that the acquisition of these skills looked too easy, nor so incompetent that you gave up hope entirely.

Their tutor was a man called Guy Mallinson, a well-spoken downsizer who had traded a city job as a cabinet-maker to set up as a bodger in the Dorset woods. The term bodger – for someone crafting household objects from fresh-cut timber – led you to expect a lot of bodging, but you got anything but. Guy whittled up a lovely kitchen spatula in less than a quarter-of-an-hour and he set about teaching his pupils to construct a ladderback chair, using only the natural shrinkage of the wood to hold the thing together. In between lessons in spindle-turning and tenon-shaping, Monty Don – for whom the whole thing is an extended lesson in consumer ethics – went off to look at more ancient examples of the same techniques. And the whole thing is lovely, whether it's the streamer of wood shavings unfurling from a whirling chair leg or the sense that, while you might not be able to repeat the process, there isn't a single step you don't conceptually understand. Unsurprisingly, the woodwork teacher won the competition, transforming a four-foot log with the sap still seeping into a chair that was not only good to look at, but could also be sat on without trepidation.

The technology explored in Virtual Revolution is a little less tangible – and the economics of that technology (the subject of this third episode of the series) weirdly counter-intuitive too. Given the abstractions of the subject – and the ever- present possibility that it could spiral off into a fog of Baudrillardian nonsense – this series is admirably clear in its explanations, and nicely succinct about the larger implications of what has been explained. It's also got really good interviews. It's as if you were to have a series about the Industrial Revolution in which Matthew Boulton and James Watt popped up to talk about steam power, Richard Arkwright fondly recalled the early prototypes of the spinning jenny and Abraham Darby was on hand to be questioned about cast iron.

Alex Krotoski is a smart cookie – in the non-internet sense of the word – and effectively restores a sense of wonder to something most of us have learnt to take for granted with extraordinary speed. When Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, for instance, the idea that online commerce might have a future was still an unverifiable fantasy. But he noticed that web usage had grown by a factor of 2,300 per cent in a single year and decided to get a stake in the gold seam early. And the economies of delivery involved in the internet mean that you can make an absolutely giant profit by making innumerable tiny ones. One of the best bodgers in the country – featured in Mastercraft – reckons he's doing reasonably well if he gets the equivalent of £10 an hour for one of his hand-crafted chairs. Google, by contrast, earns over $720,000 over the same period – and does it 24 hours a day. If money is what you care about start whittling yourself a better search engine.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor