Tools and beyond

We have an interesting relationship with tools. Humans have been using tools for so long that we named the crucial years of human civilizational developement as the Copper Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age.Wikipedia visit But we have been using tools even before we discovered metals. From sticks and stones, to metals and machines — tools have come a long way.

What is a tool?

When I try to define and differentiate tools, machines, or technologies, I come up with the same answer Rancho came up with in 3 idiots.What is a machine scene, from movie 3 idiots visit

Anything that simplifies work, or saves time, is a machine [i.e. a tool or technology].

But the answer is missing something. With that definition almost everything is a machine. The language we speak, clothes we wear, the calendar on the wall, and even the cement in the wall — everything has been a tool and technology for some generation. The only difference is we can’t see them as inventions anymore because they are a part of our reality now.

That’s why I like this simple definition by Alan Kay. He says

Technology is anything invented after you were born.

In the book, What Technology Wants, author Kevin Kelly argues that “Technology is a cosmic force” and it is the next step in the evolutionary progress.I recommend his explanation of what technology wants visit I very much agree with it. Opposable thumbs help us grasp objects and computers help us extend our brain. These are all steps in the evolutionary process.

Tools and the new possibilities

I am very much interested in the relationship we share with the tools we surround ourselves with.I will use the words tool, technology, and machines interchangeably in this essay because it deems fit for this discussion. They enable us to do things we otherwise could not. And we love them for that, don’t we? The fact that we can zoom call anyone oceans away, and we can fly in flights like birds! We are thankful for the tools we have today.

Tools, however, also limit us in ways we don’t see. They make us see the world in a specific way, and blind us of all the possibilies that would have existed otherwise. We stop building tools around life, and start building a life around tools.

On one hand, we start to overdepend on the tools we use. For instance, Google maps helps us find any place on the planet, but also makes us feel lost in our own city if we can’t connect to internet.

On the other hand, tools limit our thinking itself. What stops us from forging our own path instead of just following the marked roads? They indeed guide us to many places, but also keep us from travelling to places which are not marked yet. This thinking limitation is of particular concern for makers and builders. If you use stairs for far too long, you may miss thinking beyond them and fail invent elevators or teleportation.

I will talk about how different social media shape our thinking patterns differently in another essay, but even the small mobile screen size limits us from thinking of more innovative solutions.

credits: @graycrawford

Beyond the tools

Going beyond the tools needs you to think beyond the world created by these tools. Ergo, a little amount crazyness is not only okay, but a necessity in the creation of such tools.

Think of what Steve Jobs must be thinking when he said to himself What if we could tap on the screen instead of buttons? or what Henry Ford must be thinking while pioneering the assembly line. Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci, Archimedes, etc. — you can name hundreds of such thinkers and inventors.

Recently, in a private slack I found a channel titled what ifs where one could post any crazy idea and others would respond to that imagination.

I posted

What if we had canals and rivers instead of roads and highways, and boats and submarines instead of cars and helicopters?

I know you are thinking, I was high or perhaps wished to be an aquatic animal at subconscious level. None of those would be wrong assumptions because our assumptions are based on your beliefs, which are set by the world around us — the world filled with tools.

You can find many such ideas on the web (r/whatif). Try to come up with some ideas yourself. The world will be a more accepting (and fun) place where we can welcome even the craziest of all ideas. Here is one of my favorite what ifs.

Further Reading