Even with your Hand on It: A Meditation on the Ontology of the Shortcut

That door was always different somehow. I think it started with the doorknob. Different lock than all the other doors on the house, different style of hardware. And they treated it differently, since it was the only one that would lock them out of the house if they weren’t careful. It was one of those twilight affordances somewhere between Vorhandenheit and Zuhandenheit. It kept you guessing.

Of course, for the toddler it was just an impediment. If she was outside, she wanted it unlocked so she could run inside the house and then back out again. The dogs wanted that, too, so that left the adults insisting on keeping it shut tight — at least as tight as you could manage without getting all the way up from your seat or taking your attention off the things that had you outside in the first place.

But you know how toddlers will deal with impediments—they press on them until they give way. Finally, one of the adults thought to pull it shut so firmly that it would stay — at least until she was strong enough to turn the knob. It would buy some time, at least. Maybe through the end of the summer.

The toddler showed them the truth. Come to find out, the latch didn’t snap into the face plate on the other leaf of the french door. Even with the knob locked and the door completely shut alongside its companion, it opened without any trouble.

They had made so many allowances for it that they never even noticed that it was broken.

By some point in the future, that little girl will have learned a lot more about doorknobs — most pertinently, that you have deal with them first. You don’t just ignore them and push on the rest of the assembly, because usually it’s only through the doorknob that you can ever hope to pass through the doorway. Usually.

But will she also remember that sometimes you can push first?

Originally published on Medium