Going home after a meeting, I found myself stopping to shop. While I looked at a lot of stuff, I gravitated towards the tools — small ones. You see I have a small box of small tools that I take with me on trips and often fix small things for family and friends. Actually the small box keeps getting larger and now it’s almost too heavy to lift.
Over the years, this small tools collection, used initially for building hi-fi equipment has grown, and having served well, has influenced me to think small. I have a small tent, a portable fold up chair and cot, an antique Army field table which, while as stable as any dinning room table, folds, (no, rolls) to the size of a small tent package. I tuck these in the car with my portable notebook computer and portable scanner-printer and I’m quite mobile. I even have a PC network connection and a portable external hard drive. I seem to have “all the tools I’ll ever need,” as Ed McMann used to say on the Tonight show.
Of course, it is unlikely that anyone can ever have all the tools they might want for every eventuality, but for many it seems we’re certainly in sync with the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Perhaps, even possessed to be prepared.
Some people collect cookbooks, excellent tools. Not that they would cook everything shown, but so that they don’t feel diminished as a wife, friend or cook, yet they seem unable to find an end to their quest for more cook books.
Sometimes our collection of tools makes sense because machines require different types of tools or sizes.
Bicycles need different tools than autos. Plumbers have special tools for installing sinks and things. Auto mechanics have metric and standard sets of wrenches, and I’m told they have to contend sometimes with bolts that have “standard” threads but metric heads.
Over the years continue to deal with all the different formats of recordings — open-reel, recorded at full track, half track, quarter track and quarter track stereo, and some quad-track and 8 track cartridges and then cassettes with similar peculiarities in recording tracks.
Now there are MP3 machines, and formats for .WAV files and others. Then there was microfilm, microfiche, micro-cards with negative and positive orientations. Now it’s PC’s and MAC computers with 5.25″, 3.5″ discs of 320kb, 8 sector; 340kb, 9 sector; 720kb, 9 sector; 800kb and 1.2megabytes and 1.44 megabytes high density, not to mention single sided, double-sided, single and double density. And we haven’t touched digital film, tape, CD’s or CD-ROM’s yet.
We can be at awe and in despair at the same moment, in looking at the list of tools for each contingency.
But technology is always moving forward to help us, maybe. Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab writes in Being Digital, that much of what we invent and even digitize, has little relevance or relationship to any other digitized appliance, i.e., we have a lot of sole purpose machinery — refrigerators, stoves, hot plates, bread makers, sandwich makers, waffle irons, etc. There are items coming on the market that will allow us to discard some of our accumulation of tools, or at least relegate them to the archives and museums or the world of garage sales. One such item is the all-in-one stereo with receiver, amplifier, speakers, CD player, tape player/duplicator, sometimes called a boom box or ghetto blaster — and this is a good example of “relational equipment” except for the need to hold all the accessories, the cassettes, the CDs, and batteries.
Another item is the Digital Camera. It eliminates film canisters/cartridges and paraphernalia and even the photo shop. On the other hand you will need a new color printer, discs and multitude of storage devices and all the frames and stuff sold at the photo shop, and a computer. The Internet has that siren call of doing away with the component type computer with its peripherals and drives, and having someone else worry about all the tools in some remote location.
While we may always be looking for a simpler method of doing what we do, with more compactness and less tools, taking less of our time, these appliances usually cost a great deal more and limit the numbers of people who can afford them.
Do we really want to get rid of our “every contingency” tools? Having options of the kinds of music we listen to may necessitate an LP turntable that can only be hooked up to a component stereo system, or 78-rpm shellac records our Grandparents willed us.
Without our various appliances and tools, what would we brag about? What would make us unique? What new knowledge or help could we share if no one needed our special tools? And what knowledge will be lost without all those tools to recapture what we put on those media? Hmm– I wonder if anyone still needs an 8″ floppy disc? Perhaps we ought to also recycle ideas before going headlong into what is only a siren song.
We now have ChatGPT to help librarians and researchers build bibliographies of tools and other things. I’m not sure yet if this will replace tools, but perhaps it will help us find those that we need, sooner.