The discussion tonight by Alan Levine – cogdog – was awesome. I have always enjoyed reading Alan’s work and find his insights into learning often challenge me to think deeply about different topics and examine more closely my own assumptions and point of view. Alan was discussing storytelling, something that has become more important to me as I stumble along this path toward my PhD.
As part of his presentation, Alan discussed digital tools – asking if a tool was just a tool? Was a guitar just a guitar to Jimi Hendrix?
That’s an incredible solo but, notice, he wanted to redo that one part – Hmm – I often get stuck here in the discussion of digital tools –
My POV – Brushes and Sprayers
For years I was a painter – not artistic in the sense that I painted paintings but in the sense that I painted dwellings. I remember taking a painting class and trying to actually paint – it was a disaster. I couldn’t free myself from the self-imposed idea of what painting was suppose to be – so I struggled with the class to the absolute delight of my instructor who spent a great deal of time with me.
Oh, but give me a 3″ paint brush and a roller or a sprayer with a fine-tip –
these were tools I used to change plain white gyprock into spaces of living – places of warmth and caring – places where you would shop or eat or snuggle with someone you really liked, eat popcorn or pizza and watch that movie or the game ….. I spent hours creating & changing space into living space. I’ve created the illusion of space, a deep forest, a calming beach, a rustic countryside, a sunny nook – all with brushes, rollers, sprayers and some coloured paint. No not landscapes – didn’t you get that in the earlier section! With colours – I’ve done this in malls, homes, businesses and a garage or two for people who had nothing more than an idea that they wanted to have a “feeling” when they were in the room. Colour does that – it’s an extension of our emotions and subconscious but we all know that – the colours we choose and the patterns selected, through the contrasting and complimentary highlights that play together and against the dominant colours. Note – avoid a room of Periwinkle – it just doesn’t work on so many levels!
They were tools
The brush, roller, sprayer – they were just tools. It was what I could do with them that made the difference – or didn’t when it came to using brushes to try to “create” images. I was a craftsman and those were my tools. Just like I had the pleasure to work with stonemasons, drywallers, electricians and other craftspeople. Each had their tools – some were amazing to watch. I remember watching a younger guy – a drywalled – apply drywall mud like it was icing on a wedding cake – it was amazing to watch the way he worked, his motion as he swept the trowel across the surface as a skater glides across ice. Unless you could watch, you wouldn’t really know just how good he was at it since it would soon be covered with paint! For me, someone who generally was the next person in the line of craftspeople, I admired what he did because he was so good. Very few bubbles or ridges. A soft sand and smoothness – a painters dream but I also liked watching him as he applied his craft – as much art as skill.
Are digital tools different?
Again, is someone who can do amazing things with a guitar any different that being incredibly good at, say, painting? Is being able to use a set of tools at a particular mastery level any different if it’s a computer or a chainsaw?
In Banff one summer I was able to watch a carver create an incredible eagle from a piece of wood using a chainsaw. It was amazing. A tool that, to so many, was just a tool was something else when he used it. Or is just still a tool and, in his hands, its used in a different way? Like the pencil drawing Drawing Hands by M.C. Escher , is the pencil more than a tool?
When is it not a “tool”?
Are tools just “tools” until they are used by someone and become more than a tool? Really, it’s just a pencil or a paint brush. In fact, for me, it’s just a paintbrush, although not all paintbrushes are equal. Do these things become more than tools depending on what we use them for and who is using them? Or is it what we create? Is there a difference in how we define “tool” for a painter than, say, someone who creates an infographic of engaging with twitter ?
I use all sorts of digital tools – for work and play, organization and gaming. I am better at using some than others like most people.
I created this thinglink using an image created by someone else – both of us using different tools to share with other people for different purposes.
And I created this thinglink myself from different images for someone who had a particular request
In a time of increasingly shifting creation of new tools and technology there is a blurring of whether something is a tool or not. This pushed me to wonder – Are glasses a tool? Google glasses? Infrared glasses? Night-vision glasses?
Is it Perspective?
I game a bit – probably more than a 40-something should but that’s another discussion. I use my computer or iDevice to game – the tools are similar but not the same so I carefully choose what I do when using them. I see the tools I use on my computer as ways to connect, create, play, talk, listen, frolic… well maybe not frolic… okay just a little. I use to visit SecondLife regularly – there are some incredible buildings and lands there – a number of times and for awhile was really engaged in meeting and discussing with people but it kind of faded away…..not the same as the gaming experience. Some people see the computer or other devices as more than just tools just as a guitar was more than a guitar to Hendrix. Or was it?
Still, it’s just a paintbrush – if I handed it to you would you see it as a way to create feeling, emotions – to change how people feel about their day or about each other? Or is it a paintbrush – a tool to apply liquid to a solid surface? If Hendrix handed me the guitar what would I see beyond an instrument?
When I listen to my daughters play the piano it sometimes is so moving I get choked up. I don’t touch the thing – ever!
When are these things no longer “just tools”? Or are they always just tools but in the hands of different individuals, they can become instruments of much more. Is it the person/people?
Should we care?
Really, should it be something we debate about whether something is or is not a tool when there might be a greater discussion to be had – what does the person do with it? What is the learning? What is the connection? What is the benefit to themselves and society? Don’t we all use tools for different purposes – ever use a shoe to pound a nail? Hammer to crack a nut? Screwdriver to open a paint can?
I’m slowly developing the skills to use my computer to create a better and better podcast. As I add a better microphone and learn to integrate different interviews and add different shifts, my podcast is slowly improving. I want to share ideas and discuss different topics related to education. As I develop the different skills does it mean that at some point the computer will become more than just a tool that I am using to create and then connect to people through the podcast?
What do you think? Are some tools just tools – like a hammer and are some tools more than just tools – like an iPhone? I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas as part of this educational discourse…..