Holding is believing, maybe even more than seeing. There is something about handling an object, turning it over in your hand and touching its parts to convince a human being that it will work.
That is what I learned when my high-tech company launched a product that fits in the palm of a human hand. And it isn't even the latest smartphone full of fun apps, it is a round disk that eventually gets mounted high on a wall. More than the software that made it work, more than the electronics embedded in it; the people at the launch were fascinated by the industrial design of the object in their hand. After the launch video and the executive presentation, all that the crowd wanted to do was to hold it. They felt its weight by bouncing it in their palms. They ran their fingers along the milled metal on the back and the sleek molded top. They popped it open and felt the click as they shut it again. And finally, as an act of approval they passed it from hand to hand to the next person in the little crowd gathered around each sample.
As I watched the crowd handling our new product, I thought of how universally human the whole scene was. I was reminded of the way my father taught me to hold the paint brush in the tips of my fingers to lay down a thin coat of varnish and the construction foreman who grabbed my hammer, flipped it end-over-end in his rough hand and showed me how to drive nails like I meant it. Each man showed me how the tool fit in his hand and then gave it back to me to handle and learn and use, in a tradition I imagine as old as the Stone Age.
And with that thought, I was back at our launch reaching out to get the sample safely back in my own hand.
Louis Leaky, the famous anthropologist, said that humans are the tool-making animal, but I what I realized from our product launch is that even here in high-tech Silicon Valley, we are also the tool handling animal.