Doorknobs Exist

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Technologies organize us, but they do so only insofar as they are embedded in our lives. This is a crucial idea. Take a doorknob, for example. A simple bit of technology, yes, but one that presupposes a vast and remarkable social background. Doorknobs exist in the context of a whole form of life, a whole biology — the existence of doors, and buildings, and passages, the human body, the hand, and so on.

3rdarm roly poly cat alfonso sotelo manuel martinez hugo sanisaca xoco chicago autumn alonso sotelo apples nichols farm and orchard

A designer of doorknobs makes a simple artifact but he or she does so with an eye to its mesh with this larger cognitive and anthropological framework. When you walk up to a door, you don’t stop to inspect the doorknob; you just go right through. Doorknobs don’t puzzle us. They do not puzzle us just to the degree that we are able to take everything that they presuppose — the whole background practice — for granted.

3rdarm roly poly cat alfonso sotelo manuel martinez hugo sanisaca xoco chicago autumn alonso sotelo apples nichols farm and orchard

If that cultural practice were strange to us, if we didn’t understand the human body or the fact that human beings live in buildings, if we were aliens from another planet, doorknobs would seem very strange and very puzzling indeed.

-What Art Unveils, by Alva Noe, published on NYTimes’ The Stone Blog, October 5, 2015

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