The philosopher Martin Heidegger devoted much of his mental power to an analysis of how we exist in the world surrounded by things that we only fully encounter when we take them in hand and start using them. Unique among philosophers, he understood that things don’t just sit still and submit to our detached, unbiased analysis. On the contrary, we can only fully account for our experience if we also consider things as they exist while in use as equipment. This led him to theorize two “modes of encounter” with things.
First, there is “readiness-to-hand.” Something exists as ready-to-hand when our attention is directed not at it, but rather upon some job we are doing. The equipment doesn’t occur as an object in our minds at all, but rather joins up with our body to get a job done. This is a mode of being in which the equipment quietly recedes into the background of our experience — we can almost forget that it is there — and exists alongside us as something actively in use.
n a way, this sounds like the tool in question hides from our gaze when in use. But in another way, the tool is actually revealing a part of itself that otherwise goes unseen. A tool in use simultaneously reveals and conceals itself. As Heidegger put it, only “the hammering itself uncovers the specific ‘manipulability’ of the hammer” (Being and Time, I. 3:69).