Back to Heidegger: that tools which are ‘ready to hand’ (zuhanden) disappear into the task, and only become again ‘tools’ to us (as being, in themselves, things) when we put them down. I’ve written before, wondering about tools which we never put down — the tools which once we start using them, are internalised into our augmented experience — tools which become so much a part of our embodied being that we can never see them again in their own thingness. The word, not the axe. Also, possibly, pervasive tools like the mobile phone, certainly the internet, for some of us.

But there’s a moment with all of these tools when you first pick the thing up — before it melds itself into your extended being, before it disappears into the task of being-in-the-world once and forever, there must be a first time, when you test the heft of the thing as a thing with capabilities, when it is briefly possible to feel the interface betwen self and thing (I remember the first whole texts I read as a child, and that could feel the world through the words. But soon there was only the world — language since then has become such a part of me, it is no longer a tool I feel the use of).

We don’t seem to have words for that moment — feeling the new newness of something becoming part of us (we don’t really have a word for that incorporation itself, either, other than love, and this is not love) — when we are, briefly and uniquely, aware of the particular interface it effects between us and our task, surely a moment when we can learn something, when we last see clearly our chosen tool and feel its heft, become aware of how it rubs against our hand in a particular way, has a certain weight, and more importantly, how it could be different — that there might have been other choices, other ways to light our way through the forest, other ways to scar the world with our memories and desires that the future might know us… when we heft the tool-as-a-thing for the first (and last) time (think ‘early man’ lifting the thighbone in the prelude to 2001) and it becomes part of us, and reshapes us and our (the only) world forever.


  1. gravity comes to mind.

    once wrote a short thing, more an image than a narrative/poem, “Spontaneously Combusting Giants” —
    in which two giants, about half the height of the planet, have problems with the sun. Anyway, they literally gravitate toward one another. This was pre cellphone and there wasn’t enough space to think about tools, but one can imagine the potential for a cellphone on that scale to literally stick to your ear …

    there is something very delicate in the relationships we have with tools … probably the delicacy of the tools themselves. difficult to articulate but something like: love is only plausible between the naked

  2. From Andy Clarke & David Chalmer’s The Extended Mind (i’m thinking about these kinds of things as tools we can’t ‘put down’):

    “The extraordinary efficiency of the fish as a swimming device is partly due, it now seems, to an evolved capacity to couple its swimming behaviors to the pools of external kinetic energy found as swirls, eddies and vortices in its watery environment. These vortices include both naturally occurring ones (e.g., where water hits a rock) and self-induced ones (created by well-timed tail flaps). The fish swims by building these externally occurring processes into the very heart of its locomotion routines. […] Now consider a reliable feature of the human environment, such as the sea of words. This linguistic surround envelopes us from birth. Under such conditions, the plastic human brain will surely come to treat such structures as a reliable resource to be factored into the shaping of on-board cognitive routines. Where the fish flaps its tail to set up the eddies and vortices it subsequently exploits, we intervene in multiple linguistic media, creating local structures and disturbances whose reliable presence drives our ongoing internal processes. Words and external symbols are thus paramount among the cognitive vortices which help constitute human thought.”

  3. although of course we have, presumably, evolved to exploit language, whereas many of the tech tools have happened in the last few generations…presumably at some meta-level, though, we have adapted to make these kinds of tools, and to have the craft to adapt them to our needs faster than we ourselves evolve…

  4. what i was suggesting is tools may be invisible but not naked …

    tools generate distinct languages that are stored in our naked bodies. at best, the absence of the tool leaves you with something like a phontom limb. at worst, the language that that tool evolved itself devolves to become invisible.

    cf. Fahrenheit 451.

  5. there are some very cronenberg images in my mind at the moment — especially bits from eXistenz (which I want to see again). ‘What’s so special about the special?’

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