By-products

Over the past week I visited a family member who possesses a unique collection – antique tools spanning from the early 19th to 20th centuries. There even might have been one about 400 years old. With each tool he told us what it was used for. Some looked like they could still accomplish their function.

I stood awestruck. Such a wall of tools stood in stark contrast to the application folder on my laptop. Would I be able to show my grandchildren those digital tools years later? Or would the only thing I could share are the by-products? Posts, charts, emails, graphs, articles, all printed out and placed in a binder?

But think about it – the tools are not what we focus on.

We pay attention to the photo album rather than the camera that took the photos. Thomas Jefferson's polygraph is proudly displayed at Monticello. The tool does not work any longer. The copies of letters made from it? Historians use them to archive Jefferson's correspondence.

Tools must be built to last. But what by-products can last beyond the tool's obsolescence?