Fortunate Misapplication

Through a long history, men have, I believe, explored the transactional possibilities of countless of the things in their environment and sometimes, Pygmalion-like, the things have come alive. Thus many of mankind's most prized technological discoveries, from agriculture to chemistry, may have had their origin [...] in the fortunate misapplication of social intelligence.

This bit is from a paper by Nicholas Humphrey called “The social function of intellect” (source) which I stole from the end of Steven Mithen's wonderful book The Prehistory of the Mind.

Fortunate misapplication of social intelligence — I love that phrase. Reminds me of some of my favorite writing on computers. Pieces like Zach Mandeville's The Map is the Territory make the computer come alive through imbuing those smart rocks on our desks with social autonomy. Here's a particularly lovely part of Zach's introduction to the command line that illustrates this:

To use the terminal is to engage in a dialogue with your computer. You will ask it to do something and it will do it. Most of the time it gives no outward response, just moves quickly and diligently through the task and waits silently for your next ask. If you ask a question of it, it will print its answer. If it doesn’t understand you or encountered an issue, it will print out its problem as best as it can articulate.

Engaging in a dialogue with the materials in our environment transforms those materials into something new. We make personal discoveries of materials more personal and brimming with life than we thought; materials that serve as anchors for our very selves.