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Our tools shape us

My friend told me a story yesterday. A group of Korean researchers asked kids what they wanted to build using Legos. If the researchers showed the Lego pieces to the kids first, they wanted to build common things like cars and houses. If the researchers didn’t show them first, then the kids wanted to build uncommon things like spaceships. It reminded me of the Maslow’s hammer. Maslow wrote: “I remember seeing an elaborate and complicated automatic washing machine for automobiles that did a beautiful job of washing them. But it could do only that, and everything else that got into its clutches was treated as if it were an automobile to be washed. I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

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I travelled in Germany recently. There are so many fantastic beer gardens. I assumed I’d gain weight because I ate and drank a lot every day. I took a deep breath before stepping on the scale after the trip. I was happily surprised that I lost a couple of pounds in two weeks. For the weight loss, I should thank the last-mile-travel tools there. In Europe, people use bicycles or just walk instead of riding Uber or E-Scooter. When I travelled there, my legs were tired in the first couple of days. Then they felt great as they were shaped by the daily walks.

For long distance travel, the tools we use shape us even more. Here we mostly use cars and planes for long distance travel, while people in Europe and Asia mostly use mass transit tools like buses and trains. After several international visits, I believe the mass transit tools are essential to our future. First, those bus and train systems are well connected. The short distances between the connections make my daily walks as workout and not labor. Second, the mass transit tools save energy and climate: “A train uses up to 70% less energy and causes up to 85% less air pollution than a jet aircraft.”. Third, the mass transit tools shape how we live. As the article US Infrastructure bill explained: “We need to get people out of cars and onto mass transit…… we need to get people comfortable with living in greater concentration…… urban lifestyles are more efficient in terms of carbon footprint.”

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I no longer consider planes as mass transit tools. Planes are becoming more and more unreliable while “The climate challenge for aviation is worse than anyone expected.” In April, my flights were cancelled due to pilot shortage. In June, my flight was delayed for hours due to baggage handler shortage. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

My wife told me a joke a long time ago. Aliens send a report back to Mars after observing America. The report says: “America has lots of parasites, called human, living in moving metal boxes, called cars”. Let’s get out of the cars. At least, let’s drive an electric car instead. research showed: “as battery technologies continue to improve…… emissions deriving from the manufacturing of EV batteries are dropping…… emissions generated during production are highly compensated during the electric cars’ lifetime.”

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As Marshall McLuhan said: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” These days, we are mostly using tools instead of making tools. We are predominately tool users instead of tool makers. Our tools are now shaping us more than we shape them. Let’s think about the tools we rely on. The smartphones we are holding. The apps we are using. The air conditions we are running. Reuse, remake and relearn.


昨天朋友告诉我一个科研结果。韩国研究人员问孩子们想用乐高积木搭建什么东西。如果研究人员先把积木给孩子们,他们会想搭建一些普通的东西,比如汽车和房子。如果研究人员没有先给他们积木,孩子们就会想要建造不寻常的东西,比如宇宙飞船。这让我想起了马斯洛的锤子。马斯洛写道: “我看到过一台自动洗汽车的机器,洗得很干净。但它只能做好这一件事。放进去其他任何东西,都会被当作一辆汽车来对待。我想,如果你唯一的工具是锤子的话,你会把一切都当成钉子来对待。”

在德国旅游的两个星期我每天吃喝很多。那里有很多很好的啤酒花园。旅行结束后,我在踏上体重秤前深吸了一口气。结果很惊讶地发现体重掉了两斤。我应该感谢德国的短途交通工具。在欧洲,人们使用自行车或步行,而不用 Uber 或 E-Scooter 。在德国旅行最初的几天,我的腿走很累。之后感觉就好了,因为我习惯了每日步行。短途交通工具塑造了我。

我们使用的长途旅行工具更加能塑造我们。在美国,我们通常使用汽车和飞机,而在欧洲和亚洲,人们通常使用公共汽车和火车。经过几次国际旅行,我深信公共交通工具对我们的未来至关重要。首先,地铁,汽车和火车系统可以紧密连接。连接点之间的短距离步行是一种运动而不是劳动。第二,公共交通工具节约能源而且环保:“与喷气式飞机相比,火车使用的能源减少了 70 %,空气污染减少了 85 %。” 第三,公共交通工具可以重新塑造我们的生活方式。正如美国基础设施法案所说:“我们需要让人们从汽车里出来,坐上公共交通。。。我们需要让人们习惯于都市生活。。。都市生活方式在碳足迹方面效率更高。”

我不再认为飞机是大规模的交通工具。飞行变得越来越不可靠,而且“航空业面临的气候挑战比任何人预想的都要严重。” 我四月的航班因飞行员短缺而取消。六月的航班因为行李搬运工人手不足而延误了几个小时。五花八门的原因让人无法信赖飞机交通。

我太太很久以前给我讲过一个笑话。外星人在考察美国之后向火星发回报告。说: “美国有很多寄生虫,叫做人类,生活在移动的金属盒子里,叫做汽车。” 让我们从汽车里出来吧。至少,我们改用电动车。Earth . org 的研究显示: “随着电池技术的不断完善。。。电动汽车电池制造过程中产生的排放正在下降。。。生产过程中产生的排放在电动汽车的寿命期间得到高度补偿。”

正如马歇尔·麦克卢汉所说:“我们成为我们Behold的。我们制造工具,然后工具塑造我们。” 现在,我们大多数都是使用工具,而不再制造工具。我们主要是工具的使用者,而不再是工具的制造者。现在,工具塑造我们要超过我们制造它们。让我们想想我们所依赖的工具。我们手中的智能手机,我们使用的应用程序,我们家里的空调。。。重复使用、重新制造和重新学习。

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