Why do we become so emotionally involved with our tools? How can we feel betrayed by a golf club, mocked by a pull-start lawn mower, or sabotaged by backup software? How can a pair of shoes or a guitar bring about feelings of guilt? How can an emotionally inert, inanimate object affect our emotions so suddenly and powerfully?
When we understand that the value of a tool is directly related to the potential that tool represents, then it becomes clear why we’re so emotionally involved with our tools.
Focusing on the Potential
I bought a guitar a decade and a half ago. It cost $300. I still have it. I’ve played it 20 times. Maybe. And when I look at it I’m filled with mixed emotions of regret, guilt, inadequacy, and shame. Not because I owe the guitar anything, or even because I promised anyone that I’d use the darn thing. It’s because I love music and dream of someday being able to create music on my own, and when I see the guitar it reminds me that I am not accomplishing my goal or fulfilling my dream.
It’s not an overwhelming feeling, and it passes in an instant. I don’t think I’m alone in this, or even in the minority. Most of us have a possession or activity (or person) that consistently evokes in us a feeling of guilt. And the reason for this has nothing to do with the object, but has everything to do with the potential of the object—the task that we imagined we’d accomplish with it, or the person the tool would enable us to become. This is both natural and understandable.
Potential vs. Theoretical
I’ve frequently heard people express a certain feeling of guilt when they think about their neglected blog or twitter account. Some people feel a sense of obligation to technology that can’t necessarily be blamed on social pressure or financial investment. I think it’s because people inherently recognize the immensely powerful potential of technological tools, particularly ones that enable instant global communication. But without a specific goal or end result in mind, a tool’s value becomes more theoretical than potential. So, if you have nothing to say, why do you need a microphone? If you have no goal to accomplish and no vision to pursue why are you emotionally investing in a particular tool?
Don’t be passionate about swinging a hammer, be passionate about building wonderful furniture. Don’t be passionate about social networks, be passionate about connecting people or sharing meaningful ideas. Don’t be passionate about technology, be passionate about humans.