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The Relationship Between Tools And People

In the new study, Chemero and graduate students Dobromir Dotov and Lin Nie tracked the hand movements of people using a mouse to guide a cursor during a series of motor tests. Part way through the tests, the cursor lagged behind the mouse. After a few seconds, it worked again. When Chemero’s team analyzed how people moved the mouse, they found profound differences between patterns produced during mouse function and malfunction.

When the mouse worked, hand motions followed a mathematical form known as “one over frequency,” or pink noise. It’s a pattern that pops up repeatedly in the natural world, from universal electromagnetic wave fluctuations to tidal flows to DNA sequences. Scientists don’t fully understand pink noise, but there’s evidence that our cognitive processes are naturally attuned to it.

But when the researchers’ mouse malfunctioned, the pink noise vanished. Computer malfunction made test subjects aware of it — what Heidegger called “unreadiness-at-hand” — and the computer was no longer part of their cognition. Only when the mouse started working again did cognition return to normal. (One assumes, though the researchers didn’t test the proposition, that cognition would also have returned to normal had test subjects stood up and stopped using the computer.)

The results demonstrate how people fuse with their tools, said Chemero. 

Your Computer Really Is a Part of You

Wired, March 9, 2010

(Source: psfk.com)

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