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Five Minutes With: Pete Masters, carpenter and web editor MSF (UK)

People admire bookshelves, not hard drives, says carpenter Pete Masters. Books inspire conversation by their physical presence, so why would you want to hide them. Masters is the medical innovation advisor for Medicines Sans Frontierés. He was our Inspiration Room guest speaker at London Design Festival 2010 event, “Aesthetics as a means to heal“.

Pete Masters doing carpentry work for Medicins Sans Frontierés at Glastonbury Festival, where MSF (UK) ran their own live stage and Haiti installation. Photo © Pete Masters

Q: What do you think will become of books?

In my lifetime, I can’t see them going anywhere all that fast. People still love them (even total Kindle slaves still tend to have prized collections). The big change will come when today’s kids become adults… No book culture, no nostalgia for the turning of a physical page, no favourite covers or folded corners… Then, who knows? I hope they’ll still be around.

Q: You were a full-time web editor for MSF for quite awhile. Now you have embarked on carpentry as a profession, and making some bookshelves! How does it feel making a piece of artefact that will perhaps become obsolete? A bookshelf is a dedicated physical space in a room to display (printed) books. Some would argue that getting rid of bookshelves is a great way of getting rid of clutter. While others pointed out that the digital technology removes the possibility of serendipity, and not allowing room for spontaneity. What is your view as someone who has been on both sides of the fence?

First of all, I’d be a bit of a fraud saying I’ve sat on both sides of the fence. It’s true that while at MSF, I worked online almost exclusively. But, I haven’t owned a computer in years, have no MP3 player, no e-reader etc. I’m not anti these things (or ignorant of them), I just prefer the physical. And, what could be more welcoming than books open on the coffee table and the bedside table, or majestically lining shelves on a floor to ceiling book case?

When has anyone ever walked into a house and said: “Oh, you’re storing your data on a one terabit buffalo drive station. That’s my favourite external hard drive”?

Bookshelves in the workshop. Will these be around in the future? Photo © Pete Masters

Books inspire conversation by their presence (I have even heard strangers discuss a book on the underground, where talking is, if not illegal, highly frowned upon) – why would you want to hide them? A friend of mine who shall not be named (yes, Kevin, I’m talking about you) actually borrowed a book for his bedside table for the period he was internet dating, in case he got lucky.

The author of the ( article points out that ‘an e-reader (especially one that can be expanded through use of a memory card), can take the place of all the bookshelves in a home by literally allowing you to carry your entire book collection in one hand’. While this is the truth, I fail to imagine a situation where it would be necessary. And, anyway, what’s the point in a collection of books if you can’t lend them to friends?

Q: What is your favourite book? By author, photographer, designer or publisher?

A: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

Q: What was the last book you read? Or published!

A: I’m reading Anglo-English Attitudes by Geoff Dyer.

Q: Finally: Kindle, PDF, HTML – or print?


MSF medical innovation:

Pete Masters is also on Twitter as @Pedrito1414. Follow Medicins San Frontierés (UK) at

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