Tool Love

Jul 21
2009

Mike Hatton

Mike Hatton


Tool Love

Variations of the same thing fascinate me. Take something as mundane as wrenches. The number of variations is astounding. Forget for a minute that there are different sizes of wrenches; do not worry that some are in inches and some are metric; just look at all of the variations of a tool whose only purpose it to tighten or loosen a nut. There are some like mine, which are open ended on one end and closed on the other. Some have two open ends and others have two closed ends. The closed end can have twelve points or be hex shaped. They both work on the same nuts but the hex shape supposedly gives you a more secure fit. So why do they still make twelve point? You can have the closed side with a ratchet. You can get the wrench twisted so the palm of your hand rests on the flat part of the wrench. You can get a locking flex end so it bends up and down. You can get the ends sunken. There are stubby wrenches that are extra short. You can get the whole wrench in a half-moon shape or even an “S” shape. The list goes on and these are from just one company, Sears.

Imagine someone from 100 years ago walking into the Sears tool section. They would be either thrilled to look at the variety or shocked into a stupor, unable to make a decision. Now imagine the same time traveler with something more complex, like a cell phone. The decision making process would be almost more than they could stand.

That is how you get a simple phone like the Jitterbug. The Jitterbug’s whole marketing push is that it doesn’t do anything but make calls, so you really do not have to make decisions on cameras or what apps it has or how well is does email. That appeals to some people, but it obviously does not appeal to everybody, or we would not have so much variety.

Do we really need this much variety? Let’s look at a simple case like wrenches again. Are there people that have multiple variations of the same size wrench so they have just what they need for any purpose, or does everyone only have one and they just pick the one that suits their personality and environment for working? Maybe these are all experiments and Sears is looking for the next big idea in wrenches that will make all others obsolete. I notice that my wrenches have a certain notch on the open end that allows them to act like a ratchet with no moving parts. They do not make this kind anymore as far as I can tell. Was this a failed experiment? I imagine there must be other types that have been discontinued. Who knows how many variations on wrenches have been produced?

Some changes only affect appearance. You can get wrenches with full polish or standard finish. I have even seen blue and gold finishes too. All of the nicer finishes cost more but really do not work better nor last longer as far as I know. I believe they exist because people love their tools. If you are a mechanic and use a wrench everyday it becomes a part of you. Having a “special” wrench is a way of showing off and of showing who you are. I had a friend that worked on cars. He once bought a wrench that was so big I think he had to special order it. He only used it once while rebuilding a car. He was proud of that gigantic wrench and owning it was like telling the world that was beyond mundane needs.

Last week I talked about living off the land and how it makes you feel free. Well, tool love is its opposite. I was in London recently and it felt so free to be able to go anywhere in the city by just riding the London Underground. All I needed was a ticket and the city was mine, but there were plenty of cars in London. In fact, I saw a flat black Mercedes in London that was the coolest car I have ever seen. I was certainly envious of its owner.

In the movie Singles a character proposes a train system for Seattle. His boss turns him down with one sentence: “People love their cars”. When he complains to his girlfriend, she says “But I love my car” before he can finish. Some people love their cars, and some people don’t want the hassle.

There is an old saying that goes, “people don’t want drills they want holes”. This is to remind us to work on the customer’s problem and not just improve old solutions. Why improve drills if you can think of a better way for them to have holes or even eliminate the need for a hole. The funny thing is, some people still want drills. They buy a drill and hope that an opportunity to make a hole arises. If one does not, they will make a hole anyway. Some people probably collect drills and make a hobby of it.

Most of the tools that people love last a long time. People tend not to love their disposable items though they may have brand loyalty to them. I am in the software business and I am not sure how I can instill the same love for our software that people can have with a physical object. With a physical object you have yours and it is no one else’s. With software not only is it a copy but you are likely to reinstall it with a new version as soon as you can. Now that things are mass produced people like to customize their objects to make them unique. It does not make as much sense to do that with software since software is one way people use to customize the computer.

Some people will love their tools and others will not care and only want results. Some people will love their laptop and others will see it only as a means to an end. Others will love one tool and be indifferent about another. You may love your piano and not care about your hammer.

I think the future will give us the option of either living off the land or having an object that seems like an old friend. As more and more capabilities go to the phone, more people will consider it an indispensible tool that is an extension of their body. It may even contain our electronic identity to turn on all of the “living off the land” features of our environment. For instance you may use it to pay for the train or connect to a computer. With all of that some people will love their phone like a part of themselves and others will just consider it a means to an end and replace it in a year.

One Response to “Tool Love”

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