With a better [thing], then I'd be a real pro...
October 15, 2012 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Confusing the tool for the output: a term for it? Examples also requested.

Every field I've worked in has this concept, yet I can't think of a word or term for it.

My photographer friend tells a (much too long) joke about a photographer showing his work at a chef's home during dinner, and the chef says, "What wonderful pictures. You must have some really fancy cameras!" To which the photographer replies, "Loved the meal; you must have some awesome pots and pans."

In music performance it's the never-ending, and industry supporting, need for that next piece, that ultimate piece, of gear. "If I had that awesome guitar/effect/amp/plugin then I could really kick it up a few notches."

A recent social media postee had a photo of a new soldering iron with the cut line "Shit just got real," the underlying concept being that *now* his solder joints will be so much better that [something].

This feels likely to be a very common concept. I can't think of a more concise description than "confusing the tool for the output." Which is inelegant. If only I had a better thesaurus, then I'd... Oh. Oops.
posted by lothar to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A corollary would be the saying, "a poor craftsman blames his tools."
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:19 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The idea of a 'technological fix' or 'magic bullet' captures a lot of what you are describing - e.g., the conviction that better technology, rather than changes in human skill or attitude, will improve things.
posted by googly at 10:19 AM on October 15, 2012


It's a biking term, but it's pretty much exactly what you describe; it's bike slang for a person who spends a lot of money on a bike and various gear (spandex, etc), and somehow thinks this will improve their ability to ride.

A Fred can easily be spotted by their expensive gear and expensive bike and aerodynamic helmet and by the sight of me passing them on the Minuteman even though I'm riding a heavy-ass hybrid and wearing baggy shorts, because they have a fancy bike and absolutely no clue how to ride it with any real finesse.

I like the term and I've started using it outside of biking, because as you point out it's relevant in a lot of fields.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:36 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also somewhat related: Barba non facit philosophum.
posted by zamboni at 10:38 AM on October 15, 2012

Perhaps the phrasing "A (something) does not a (something) make" might be appropriate.

For example, "A camera does not a photographer make."
posted by Dansaman at 10:42 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by nicwolff at 10:43 AM on October 15, 2012

"Why should I pay for therapy when I can just talk to my friends?"
posted by OmieWise at 10:54 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've heard "gear fetishism" a lot for the obsession with the next piece of hardware, but I suppose it's not quite the same thing.

Then, of course, a poor craftsman blames his tools to be sure - but in my experience a good craftsman usually makes quite sure of them.
posted by brennen at 10:57 AM on October 15, 2012

I know this isn't quite what you asked for, but according to my dad there is a Russian saying as follows:

When you buy a camera, you're a photographer. When you buy a violin... you own a violin.
posted by prefpara at 11:00 AM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not familiar with a generalized word or term for this that applies across all disciplines.

It seems to me that this is used in two different ways.

1. The Outsider
2. The Wannabee

Like your example of the chef and photographer, the Outsider appreciates the results, but understands little of the process, overvaluing the tools and undervaluing the skills. The Wannabee also overvalues the tools, but also over overestimates their own skills, like "Fred" in the biking example.

I like the example of the aspiring writer asking what "word processing software" the established author recommends.

"Microsoft is good, but some use the Apple."
posted by nedpwolf at 11:48 AM on October 15, 2012

Similar to Dansaman's suggestion and speaking metaphorically, you could say, ahh, but "the clothes maketh not the man" which would cover the photographer, musician, solderer and chef.

Full explanation of the usage, origins and concept here
posted by guy72277 at 12:23 PM on October 15, 2012

I think you might call this a cause-effect fallacy or fallacy of relevance that postulates an instrumental cause separate from and superior to the efficient cause.

In Kenneth Burke's grammar of motives, it would just be an agency ratio (he uses the term agency for instrumental causes).
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:24 PM on October 15, 2012

Incidentally, in academia, this reasoning leads to quite a lot of unnecessary book purchases. :D
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:44 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Owning a typewriter doesn't make you Hemingway and owning SolidWorks doesn't make you an mechanical engineer"

Or more generally, owning [expensive piece of software that technical person X uses] doen't make you [technical person X].
posted by pknodle at 2:50 PM on October 15, 2012

« Older Is this a scam?   |   Posting pics: to the left or the right of the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.