Friday, 15 February 2008

"Where's Wallet?"

In a shocking lack of memory the other day, I forgot my wallet when I left the house and didn’t notice until some time later. When I did realise and mentally chastised myself for being an idiot, I began to feel a gap in my sense of self. There was a void centred around the back pocket of my jeans; a place of nothingness where once a piece of my identity stood. And I realised just how helpless I was without that wallet and all the stuff contained therein. I couldn’t buy so much as a vending-machine Mars Bar, I couldn’t get any money out of the bank, I couldn’t even prove to anyone that I am who I say I am. Just as Voldemort’s soul became segmented into various Horcruxes, I think my wallet would most definitely be a Horcrux for me since my identity is so tied up with it.

In a capitalist society it’s funny how one’s soul becomes tied up with these objects and tools we carry around every day. Someone could get a pretty good idea of my personality from rooting around in the bag I carry everyday; my musical taste from my iPod, the fact that I write from the scraps of hastily-scribbled notes and large pad of paper, my chosen course of study from the philosophy texts, my literary tastes from a Neil Gaiman novel with a Shakespeare-quoting bookmark in it, and the fact that I need to be fastidiously organised from the timetable and campus map I keep on hand. All those objects seem to define me in such a way that I could not cope for a day without them.

Humankind evolved in the way we have because of our prehensile grip and prefrontal cortex, both of which are necessary to develop tool-using abilities. Now, further down the line, we as individuals have become dependent on our tools. This is demonstrated in the monstrously confusing “2001: A Space Odyssey” with the juxtaposition between monkeys first learning to use tools and then HAL, the ultimate tool, rebelling against it’s masters, human beings. So many people use their mobile phones for much of their communication that a sizable chunk of society would be lost without them.

It’s a sobering thought since one would imagine that being freed from the unyielding but necessary use of tools would be liberating. And that is indeed the feeling when one goes on holiday: you expect not to use your usual tools and you take a break from them. But being forced to undertake normal day-to-day tasks without the use of the tools that are ordinarily used to accomplish them actually seems to render one less free. Without my wallet and with no way of getting money (short of begging or stealing), my possibilities were narrowed. If I didn’t have my phone and no way to communicate with my friends, my possibilities for the day would be narrowed.

Tools are a necessary, if slightly crippling, part of human life and they have defined the course of our species from the beginning only for us to now find that we use them as a crutch: would homo sapiens be the greatest predator on the planet without knifes or guns? Obviously not.

1 comment:

MMP said...

oh yes, i know this one well....

ok not small enough to fit in my pocket, but they define me and i so didn't cope without that definition