“Shape your tools, or you will be shaped by them.”

Posted by Rob Walker on May 27, 2009
Posted Under: DIYism

A 10-minute Youtube video about “the hardware hacking community” in Montreal is now making the rounds on some of the big blogs, so maybe you’ve seen it (though if not, check out here via the Unconsumption blog, where Tom Hosford posted it several days ago). It’s worth a look.

Plus: I have a question:

Toward the end a guy remarks: “I forget who said it, but the philosophy behind it is: Shape your tools, or you will be shaped by them.”

I’m very interested in that, but my Google-fu is evidently not up to the task of figuring out the source. So does anybody know: Who did say it? What’s the reference to?

UPDATE: The answer (see comments) seems to be Marshall McLuhan — sort of. Apparently McLuhan said: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.” That’s a different sentiment than what I took the hacker/maker to be expressing. But it seems likely that this is more or less what he was thinking of (and he hacked it?). Still accepting counter-evidence or theories if you have them, of course.

Here’s how the video is described, by the by:

“A look into the hardware hacking community in Montreal, including the Foulab collective. Why are more and more hobbyists experimenting with hacks and circuit bends? What relationship does this imply about consumer society and technological advancement? Is this a real-world analog of ‘user generated content’?”

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Could be a paraphrase; there are other similar sayings about the environment or the future (google search: http://is.gd/HdsC)

Written By ivv on May 27th, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

It’s from Marshall McLuhan … specifically the documentary “McLuhan’s Wake”

Written By trh on May 27th, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

Wow. That was fast.

Looks like you’re on the money TRH: Apparently what he said was “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.”

Which is actually different than what I was taking from the maker guy’s quote. But still.


Written By Rob Walker on May 27th, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

I found this page literally for the exact same reason. I like his hack of the quote far more.

Written By Brandon St. Germaine on July 27th, 2009 @ 12:12 pm


  1. The Right Spirit | rekeeb  on August 28th, 2009 @ 4:55 am
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