“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us” –Marshall McLuhan

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Tools that shape us

November 12th, 2017

On the weekend I drove a car which had a feature I had never seen before. It had a small LED indicator in the wing mirror which appeared when a car drove by me in the blind spot of the wing mirror. This saved me from having to crane my neck back over my shoulder to check that blind spot. Great! I thought, That’s handy, that makes my life easier.

Later on in the drive I had become used to this new tech and basked in its glory. No need to look any more, the little LED will just show up and I will be safe. Safe in this knowledge, I checked my mirrors and started to pull into the curb at which point I swerved quickly to avoid hitting two cyclists who were in my blind spot! Woah! It doesn’t work in that situation?

What had been a convenience a moment earlier now became a liability, making me think about all the trade-offs people make everyday for convenience. Google maps on your phone, no need to know where you’re going, right? Apart from all the people that ask me for directions while holding a smartphone in their hand, in New York, a city built on a grid for easy wayfinding.

This post is not about features, but about systemic problems of learning and how we apply our learning to the world. There seem to be many tools to make your life easier, but very few to help you get smarter and learn more.

Why? Perhaps it is that getting smarter and better at things requires hard work and patience, things that are not convenient. I am not advocating going back to the dark ages (or even the 90’s) and using maps and compasses again, but what I am advocating for is that we use technology to start building our own personal cultures, our own ways to think about the world, creating tools for ourselves to be more successful, happy and fulfilled.

What does that mean practically? Simple example. If you love sushi, instead of using yelp, spend the time looking up the best sushi restaurants in your area, make a list, map the locations, list out the specials and what you might eat there. Now make something, a blog post, email, instagram, anchor, snapchat about it and let other people know.
Do this every time, soon you are the expert instead of yelp, you have taken something you love and learned more and helped others learn more. This doesn’t have to be a job or make you money, but it is a way to share your personal culture — what you think and how you think — with others. That is how great ideas start.



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Kaushik Panchal

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