Everything looks like a hammer

· The Power of Many

Mary Hodder provides another reminder that it’s the people, and their behaviors, that matter, not the tools they use. She’s talking about blogs and journalism, but one of her analogies is:

BTW, in case you’re wondering, this is a blog. Yes, folks, Napsterization. Just a blog. In case you were reading this and didn’t know. But frankly it could just as well be done with some other tool. The point is, now our tools (and practices) are about interchangeable parts and air-compressor nail-guns instead of handmade hammers and nails.

Which made me wonder whether, in most human activity, tool change ‘just happens’; only in a minority of cases does anyone raise a fuss at the time. Making an exception for occasions when a tool replaces a human (steam engines for laborers), it seems that most progress in tool choice is only commented on well after the fact.

I’ve always loved woodworking, though until my parents moved into a new house I hadn’t actually done much of it. But I’ve built things since then. And a year or two ago, I started watching some “reality” home-improvement shows, such as Trading Spaces. The team rolls up with their macho trailer, sets up “Carpentry World” in the driveway, hauling out lumber and sawhorses and table saws and safety goggles. There are tools everywhere, and toolbelts; but there are no hammers on the show. The pros don’t even think about this. Yes, every couple of weeks we get a laugh at the expense of some homeowner who has never seen a pneumatic tool before. But the people who really do the work don’t miss hammers. They don’t keep them around for special occasions or for “small” jobs. The important thing is to get the nail driven as accurately as possible with as little effort as needed—hence the nail gun.

The important thing is to get the information disseminated quickly—hence the web page and the e-mail. The important thing is disintermediating the conversation— hence the blog, the wiki, the IRC or texting channel.