These are the tools of our lives.

Tool proliferation (and contraction) is a part of my life. I am an early adopter, partly because of my job, and partly because of my personality. I enjoy the new, and sometimes the new can be quite valuable.

The distinction between software, hardware, website, and locally installed tools is not very important in the long run. From the mind's perspective, they are all equivalent: tools focus behavior, sacrificing generality for effectiveness. (This definition is as true for a screwdriver as for a word processor.)

Here are some tools I've been using for some time, in no particular order:
Evernote Basecamp Freshbooks Goodreads BetterWorld Dropbox Gmail Livescribe Namecheap Linode GCalendar GNews GReader Hulu Adium Visio MSProject MSWord Photoshop Flash Flex Eclipse Netbeans Ant Maven Ivy EnterpriseArchitect JavaScript Firefox Safari ScribeFire Zotero Zing Gaim Skype Ubiquity TreeTabs Growl Terminal Bash Last.Fm Delicious Facebook Yelp YouTube MySpace Amazon NewEgg Meetup Q10 Costco VMWare Mercurial Git CVS SVN iPhone iTunes Twitter FriendFeed Firebug Blogger YahooMovies Kongregate CounterStrikeSource TurboTax NikonD90 Xcode WindowsXP OSX Wireshark Ableton Mbox2.

There are many tools I haven't listed, but these are the ones off the top of my head. Some of these tools overlap each other. For example, I have more than one mail application, browser, IDE, programming language, note-taking and build tool. Some of these tools are relatively new to me, and I'm still using them. Some of them I hardly use at all, others I use daily. Some I used to use a lot more, but now hardly at all. Some are for business, some for pleasure.

Some of these tools are platforms for other tools - but that is not really important. Indeed with Firefox, the nesting can go deeper: Greasemonkey and Ubiquity are Firefox plugins which can themselves be extended further.

I think that tools say a lot about a person, but not everything. For example, I like good beer, good coffee, occasional yoga and a daily swim. There are few tools that would indicate these preferences (although a fancy tea set, a yoga mat and goggles/speedo would be a good hint!) But interestingly, tools give you an excellent idea of what that person likes to make. And what someone likes to make is more important than what they like to consume, in my opinion.

You could infer a lot of (correct) things about my professional life from my tool list. For example, that I do a fair bit of programming, in Java (and you might probably guess HTML CSS and JavaScript). The writing tools may give a hint that I'm experienced enough to get asked to write specifications. You could also tell I'm a blogger and a journaler. Although you may miss the fact that I'm an amatuer writer of fiction (Q10 is the hint there), you would probably get that I'm a fairly serious amatuer photographer (D90, Photoshop), and musician (Ableton, MBox2). But you probably wouldn't be tricked into thinking I'm a pro photographer or musician.

But of course I may omit certain things. For example, I didn't list my pool cue, bow, soccer cleats or my huge WoW TCG collection. Admittedly these are relics of past activities, but it points out the risk of self-selecting a tool list. Perhaps a separate "tools in storage" could help one create an activity history for someone.

The "tools of our lives" tend to cluster around particular activities, and this seems to be the most natural way to organize the tools. Activity drives tool usage, but occasionally the reverse happens. If I want to ride a motorcycle, I need to buy a motorcycle - the tool supports the activity. But sometimes a tool falls into my lap and I start using it. For example, Facebook is a great tool for staying in touch with friends, and so I may do more of that activity. is a great tool for discovering new music, and I might spend more time listening to obscure tracks. I might be tempted to call these promotional tools in that they promote certain activities by making them easier to do. Hulu/TV Watching is another promotional pair. These are tools which actually shape the time-budget of your life, and so you must be careful of these. These tools can open your eyes to new possibilities, but they can also distract you from the activities that matter to you.

Many tools are geared toward eaking out productivity enhancements. These tools assume you already have a way to do something, and offer an alternative method which is faster, cheaper, or produces results of higher quality (or all three). I would consider e-tailers to be in this class of tool: they often make things easier to find, to order, and to pay for than traditional retailers. Most software-making tools are in this class. I would call these productivity tools. Essentially all software libraries and frameworks fall into this category. A physical example would be an electric drill.

There is another class of tools which offers insight into the world. They tend to be passive tools, that let the user look at things from a new angle, or provide information that would ordinarily be inaccessible. A newspaper is a classic example, or Google News. But also more technical tools like Wireshark or Firebug or LambdaProbe. IDEs like Eclipse or XCode also have many features of this sort, providing summaries of information. Insight tools help you understand the world in a way that is useful to you. A physical example would be a flashlight.

Tools can sometimes be hard to distinguish. Is TreeTabs (an excellent Firefox plugin) an insight, productivity, or even promotional tool? There is a case to be made for all three: insight because it lets you see which tabs are related to each other, productivity because it uses screen real-estate better and is more readable, and promotional because it tempts you to use far more tabs than before (with the unintended side-effect of making Firefox a lot less stable - but that's another story).

The same sort of question can be asked of certain IDE and framework features. IDEs make physical artifacts relatively easy to manage (via search) and create (via refactoring tools) and so they unintentionally promote needless artifact creation. Many frameworks also promote the use of many very specialized physical artifacts to accomplish a single task, which has many undesirable side-effects.

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