Once again, I’m in Italy, but I’m thinking of France. Or rather, I’m thinking of some things that we have in France. I’d like to lay my hands on them now, as in touching them I’m reminded of what life once was and what it can be if we let it. I’m speaking of a collection of old tools which have been forever in the barn. A whetstone. A level. An ax. A small hand saw. A hammer. Some people finger rosary beads. I would go to these tools right now for spiritual consolation if they were here.
Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day at my computer listening to Jonathan Harris, the digital artist, speak eloquently about—among other things—what technology is doing to our lives. He made so many salient points that it would be impossible to share them all here, but I encourage you to use these links to the talks in question. (AIGA, Flash on the Beach).
But one of the things he said which I must share with you now regarded tools. Once upon a time, our tools were just tools. We used them to further our aims, do our work, perform our tasks, make things. And when we were done, we put the tools aside or left them behind. Today’s technology has changed that. The brilliant design of iPads, iPhones and computers themselves attracts us ever more towards them whether or not we actually need them, so that instead of their existing in service to us, we feel compelled to be in service to them. We want to use them just to use them, but not necessarily to further a thought, tell a story, make something beneficial, create art, or simply do work.
I confess that aside from this blog, my work and my daily communications (isn’t that enough?), I often find myself drifting to the computer as if it will fill a void, give me an answer, get me through a bad moment. When in fact, what I probably should do is turn it off and get a stiff cup of tea. It requires great discipline to use it as a tool. And I am determined to start regarding it as such.
This topic got me thinking about other tools and about their beauty in our lives, about the way they draw us out of ourselves toward a physical world (and physical manifestations of ourselves) instead of further inward toward a deeper isolation. I would like to pick up a hammer today, and drive a nail deep into a piece of wood. I would like to sharpen a blade against a stone. I would like to lay a board plum or straight and measure its truth with a bubble trapped in glass. But chopping an onion will do as well. Or knitting a sweater. Brewing a coffee. Recording a date in an actual datebook. Holding a cup. Writing “I love you” in ink on a piece of real paper and leaving it on my daughter’s pillow. These daily acts, involving the old tools of our lives become sacraments compared to the mindless sitting at the keyboard. They require our presence, not our absence. They keep us real.