Let’s go straight from talking trains to something rather dull.

If I was making a list of ways to allow technology to be engaged, I’d say that the plastic and metal bits should get out of the way, and people should be able to reach through to what’s really there.

I like Heidegger’s distinction between zuhanden (“ready-to-hand”) and vorhanden (“present-at-hand”) here (brought to my awareness by Paul Dourish in Where the Action Is).

When you’re deciding whether a hammer is strong enough, or the right shape, or whatever, it’s present-at-hand: vorhanden.

When you’re hitting something with the hammer, the hammer disappears: it becomes an extension of the self. it becomes ready-at-hand: it’s not the hammer doing the hitting, it’s you: zuhanden.

The Blackberry mobile phone has a hard job here. Mostly we want our mobile phones to be zuhanden, ready at hand. But because it’s dealing with a lot of data, and there’s a lot to do on the screen, it has a real tendency to become present in your hand. How do you stop that happening?

The Blackberry way is to go as far as possible to remove the rules of operation as possible. Here, there’s no on-switch—or not one you use a lot. Instead there’s a magnet in the holster so that when you take it out, it gets ready immediately. It lights up and unlocks the keypad.

So usually the rule is that when you take the phone out, you have to next unlock it. Blackberry have replaced this rule with behaviour. It’s a lovely piece of design, and works so well that it’s easy to forget that phones all-to-easily become present-at-hand (and prevent us from easily speaking through them).

Matt Webb, S&W, posted 2006-07-14 (talk on 2006-07-13)