Tools Building Us

First we build the tools, then they build us.

— Marshall McLuhan

  • maybe the broad term would be "tool determinism" - the idea that the tool you use changes how (and what) you do
  • this seems related to ideas of Linguistic Determinism and language forcing a specific way of thinking

"Around here, that's how we do things." I don't know about you, but that line rings real true for me. Take any technology you work with-React, Figma, Webpack, Invision, Bootstrap, what-have-you—and think not about its specific features, but about how it changes the way that you work. How it structures your work; reshapes it. That technology makes many things possible, sure, but it also prevents you from walking down certain unsupported paths. It's a way of doing something.

The design systems we swim in

That's also to say that usually - but not always - the piece you produce tomorrow will be shaped, purely and simply, by the tools you hold in your hand today. In that sense the history of art is also the history of technology. The frescoes of pre-Renaissance Italy, the tempera paintings of Flanders, the plein aire oils of southern France, the acrylics of New York City - each successive technology imparted characteristic color and saturation, brushstroke and texture, sensuality or formality to the art piece. Simply put, certain tools make certain results possible.

Art & Fear

  • in some settings, even making own tools is common - woodworking, metalsmith (this is relevant to Tools Building Us, and us building the tools)
  • Bret mentions "thinking geometrically" a bunch of times in this article, I think it's an important insight of feedback loops between tools we use, and styles of thinking that they promote (Tools Building Us)

The music isn't in the piano.

— Alan Kay

  • maybe the music is in the piano, at least a bit? - we build and tune pianos in a very specific way, to support making music, and these Tools are Building Us
  • Gordon Brander argues that looking through a Cybernetic lens, the music is in a feedback loop between the piano and the player
Szymon Kaliski © 2021
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