I’ve been thinking a lot about objects lately. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that touched on a few of these ideas. At the moment, a friend and I are working on a panel proposal for the CCCC conference next April, centering the proposal around our object-centered and thing-related interests.
More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between people and our tools and interfaces.
A lot of this comes back to Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927), in which Heidegger sketches out an ontological landscape that maps all the “beings” that “are” and how “being” expresses itself more generally. Breaking down the abstractions, at one point, Heidegger uses the example of a hammer.
When we first encounter a hammer, it is “ready-to-hand” for the most part, meaning that we encounter it as a tool in use. We associate hammers with hammering. This defines the hammer, making it intelligible to people and to the world at large. This contrasts with “present-at-hand,” which places the being of the hammer in a more speculative, observed frame. With “present-at-hand,” I am studying the hammer, observing the smooth maple handle, running my hands along the metal hooks that pry. I may balance the weight. But I am detached in a sense.
In short, “ready-to-hand” defines the hammer as one uses it; “present-at-hand” defines the hammer more abstractly as a series of properties.
Tool-Being (2002) by Graham Harman takes up Heidegger’s broader outlook on these issues to explore the being of the tool more directly, becoming a flagship book in “object-oriented ontology.”
But I want to go back to the tools, back to the “things themselves” as Husserl would put it, being careful of the sort of interface or relationship that develops as people encounter the tools. This may sound a little out there, but digging into this gritty, abstract question may have pretty dynamic consequences.