single-purpose objects

There's a fetish in western consumer culture for the single-purpose object. What I mean is, a tool, container, or item that has exactly 1 use. For example, a potato masher or a salad spinner, as opposed to a fork, or a bowl. The potato masher is utterly useless for anything except mashing, but it's a pretty good masher -- much better than a fork is. Single-purpose tools fit into a funny category because they're always perilously close to being zero-purpose knick-knacks, if their niche disappears. You'll get a lot of use out of that hammer, but maybe not so much out of that post-holer.

I think that as our society gets richer, we see more and more of these single-purpose items in our daily lives. They're not really very economically efficient unless you use them pretty often, but I know that I have an emotional weak spot for the perfect tool, the tool that makes one particular job really easy. And I'm finding, as I look around, that more often than not the right tool is out there*.

I think the same trend is true across all manufactured items, across all sectors of industry and commerce. In an abundant ecosystem, the drive towards specialization is strong. You see the same thing in rain forests, where many species specialize on eating just a few things, and you see the opposite in tough or turbid environments like cities and deserts, where a few animal species survive by being generalists. If you only have a $20 budget for your kitchen supplies, you're not going to blow it on a salad spinner. But if you already have plenty of bowls, it starts to look pretty useful.

I'm not sure if I think this kind of specialization is good or bad. I find it pretty easy to make arguments either way. Certainly I think people can take it too far, in what they choose to acquire. But I don't think I'd blame the tool for that, I'd blame the collector, if they clutter up their house or blow their budget. It's not the pipe wrench's fault that you're not a plumber.

Anyway, I like to have an awareness what tools I choose and why, and this has been on my mind a lot lately as I try to clean and organize the house, and yes, as I ponder new acquisitions. ;-)

*Funnily enough, I think this is part of the reason I get so angry about software that doesn't suit my needs; I've grown used to the idea that if I need an egg scrambler, I can order one from the home shopping channel. But when I want the perfect keyboard or IDE, I'm left in the cold. Maybe my expectations are unrealistically high? Or maybe the software industry is still young when compared to say, manufacturing, or kitchen ware...

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