Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Zuhandenheit in MIT Technology Review.

In his book Where The Action Is, computer scientist Paul Dourish invokes Martin Heidegger (yikes!) to explain the difference between technology that “gets out of the way” and technology that becomes an object of attention unto itself. Heidegger’s concept of “ready to hand” describes a tool that, when used, feels like an extension of yourself that you “act through”. When you drive a nail with a hammer, you feel as though you are acting directly on the nail, not “asking” the hammer to do something for you. In contrast, “present at hand” describes a tool that, in use, causes you to “bump up against some aspect of its nature that makes you focus on it as an entity,” as Matt Webb of BERG writes. Most technological “interfaces”–models that represent abstract information and mediate our manipulation of it–are “present at hand” almost by definition, at least at first. As Webb notes, most of us are familiar enough with a computer mouse by now that it is more like a hammer–“ready to hand”–than an interface standing “between” us and our actions.
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