[Humanist] 25.739 tools

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Feb 20 07:23:16 CET 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 739.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2012 20:16:42 -0500 (EST)
        From: lachance at chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Two Takes on Tools
        In-Reply-To: <20120216063047.12E3621FBF4 at woodward.joyent.us>


You might like these two bits that I have come across -- your discourse on
tools and machines pops up when I come across passages such as these.

Lori Emerson in "A Brief History of Dirty Concrete by Way of Steve
McCaffery's _Carnival_ and Digital D.I.Y." in _Open Letter_ 14:7 draws a
parallel between the ethos of dirty concrete poetry making and the D.I.Y.
movement as represented by the Homebrew Computing Club and the Whole Earth
Catalog. In note #6 she quotes from from Fred Turner (_From Counterculture
to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the rise of
digital utopianism_) who in turn quotes a reader of the catalog:
[...] I suddenly understood the Whole Earth Catalogue meaning of 'tool.' I
always thought tools were objects, things: screw drivers, wrenches, axes,
hoes. Now I realize that tools are a process: using the right-sized and
shaped object in the most effective way to get a job done.

J. David Bolter in _Turing's Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age_
distinguishes an epoch of tool use from one of machine use. It is useful
to be reminded of such a distinction when the common discourse often
conflates tools and machines. He moves from speculating about the ancients
and their failure to adopt machines to a set of considerations about the
imbrication of technology and world view.
[T]here was something in the world outlook of the ancients (perhaps the
reliance on slavery) that kept them satisfied with traditional sources of
power and did not compel them, like later Europeans, to seek to increase
efficiency, invent new prime movers, and in general expand their control
and domination of nature.

The result was a simple but elegant technology of the hand rather than of
the machine. The ancient craftsman worked with tools that became
extensions of his hands in the manipulation of his materials. There was no
real mass production. Although a pottery shop in Athens might employ
seventy men who worked from specified designs, each thrown pot carried to
some extent the impress of the hand that made it. Also, all technical
discoveries were the product of clever observation and innovation without
a theoretical basis, for the relationship between science and technology,
so much a part of our own industrial society, did not exist.

I am willing to speculate that the move from thinking about hand-held
tools to thinking about electronic machines led to more emphasis on the
processual nature of cultural products.

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