Technology and Materials, 2

I think that a big idea underlying Maeda's work in Maeda and Media is the relationship between the creation of a tool and the use of the tool to create something else. That's still important and worth thinking about:

Much rhetoric and a lot of money are spent on realizing the classroom of the future. Surely, they say, there is a computer for both the lecturer and individual students, and it could not be built without having a high speed network that ties the classroom together, and in turn connects it to the world. Although my research team and I develop technologies to aid the education of artists and designers, we keep a backup perspective of what to do in the event of a power blackout or dropped network. This way of thinking might seem obvious at once, in which case you understand that we are all at the mercy of systems that have nothing to do with our abilities to think, create, and relate, and everything to do with a new mischievous god of the earth who stands next to fire, earth, and water - technology.

So while there are first-order tools such as brushes, scaffolds, hammers... things that we can easily make or reinvent from unrefined materials, there are also second-order tools such as books, the home, and the computer, which much more greatly enable us, but can't be created directly from scratch.

To extend that thought further, there is a third order of tools... operating systems that underpin our ability to make stuff. Instructions, ideas, systems we live within, infrastructure, culture, history, philosophy, design, et al... tools so big as to be nearly-invisible, constantly empowering us and also informing what we can and cannot do.

In The Matrix Reloaded, there's an exchange that happens between Neo and one of the Councilperson regarding the infrastructure that powers Zion:

Neo: But we control these machines; they don't control us.
Councilor Harmann: Of course not. How could they? The idea is pure nonsense. But... it does make one wonder... just... what is control?
Neo: If we wanted, we could shut these machines down.
Councilor Harmann: [Of] course. That's it. You hit it. That's control, isn't it? If we wanted we could smash them to bits. Although, if we did, we'd have to consider what would happen to our lights, our heat, our air...
Neo: So we need machines and they need us, is that your point, Councilor?

The infrastructure is too big and too slow to be changed on demand; what the people of Zion can and cannot do is determined by what the infrastructure was built to tolerate. In a sense, the 'machines run us' as much as 'we run the machines'.

Our history, cultures, and ideas work in a similar way. We build cultures around ourselves, and wield knowledge like a sword. Yet the same thing that empowers us also blinds us, biases us, and informs the limits within which we act.

So to revisit (and answer) the question at the end of the first part, yes: "ideas" are a technology, "ideas" are materials. But how is it useful to think about ideas, culture, infrastructure, et al, as tools?