I remember when Heidegger in Being and Time talks about broken technology.

Can anyone

  1. Generally explain the passages which mention this "un-readiness-to-hand"
  2. Explain what role they have in Being and Time
  3. Elaborate on the further meanings of un-readiness-to-hand


Two examples are:

[The] presence-at-hand of something that cannot be used is still not devoid of all readiness-to-hand whatsoever; equipment which is present-at-hand in this way is still not just a Thing which occurs somewhere. The damage to the equipment is still not a mere alteration of a Thing—not a change of properties which just occurs in something present-at-hand. (Being and Time 16: 103)


When something cannot be used—when, for instance, a tool definitely refuses to work—it can be conspicuous only in and for dealings in which something is manipulated. (Being and Time 68: 406)

I can make sense of these quotations in as much as I can read them, but it's unclear how to make sense of this un-readiness-to-hand in general, what role they play in his argument, and what else can be said about it

  • 4
    This seems like a bit too much of a fishing expedition--if there are particular passages that you have a particular question about, perhaps you can quote or cite them and ask the question?
    – Rex Kerr
    May 15, 2015 at 19:09
  • it's just not my fault if no-one knows the answer, it's not a good enough reason to close the question - tho by all means downvote !
    – user6917
    May 15, 2015 at 19:10
  • 4
    The question is not focused enough, and/or does not display sufficient effort on the part of the questioner.
    – Rex Kerr
    May 15, 2015 at 19:15
  • i have read being and time and i doubt that more than a few pages discuss this phenomena. i will tho, add an EXAMPLE soon
    – user6917
    May 15, 2015 at 19:17
  • Yes, that's better, though it'd be better yet if you shared a bit more of what you find difficult about these and related passages, e.g. if it is true: "Of course we call things "tools" when they can be used to do stuff, and if we don't care to do that stuff it doesn't much matter whether the tool is broken or not. But Heidegger seems to ascribe much more significance to it, and I haven't been able to figure out why." Something like this is very helpful to someone answering to know what kind of answer is suitable.
    – Rex Kerr
    May 15, 2015 at 19:50

1 Answer 1


One ongoing ontological problem is that we see things as having or not having a purpose or meaning. Our general feeling is that the purpose or meaning is an additional thing, different from the object, but integral with it, too. The words on the page are words, in some way, and not just black marks. We skip the details of reference and see their purpose directly (they come ready-to-hand).

This extra 'thing' seems to come in and go out of existence in ways that 'real' things do not, and particular it can go partially out of existence. Tools break, we notice the text is in Cyrillic, the keys stick. This presents a case study in tracing a different sort of existence that the basic, physical one, which is still not too complex to actually deal with, and is an opportunity to get clearer data on our basic notions of existence and attention.

It also leads us to analyze out the purpose and meaning, which are separate from our more basic being and look at what that more basic being might be in isolation. What does it mean to just be, without continual attachment to future purpose or accumulated meaning? To what degree are we actually capable of looking at the part of a person, especially ourselves, that is actually a 'thing', without our perspective being invaded by intellectual attachments. (This has interesting applications to why we are so put off by schizophrenia and autism, but it requires way too much background to discuss.)

This perspective has uses of its own.

Unreadiness-to-hand is terminology for this additional layer of existential attachments to an object which we see as having a role. Simply by giving the concept of use some 'meat', this concept improves approaches to design.

Collecting insights into and theories of how things maintain or find readiness-to-hand is a useful way of thinking about how to limit complexity and clarify continuity in interface design, and keep oneself from getting overly invested in mere appearances or attached to idiosyncratic assignments of meaning through sheer logical convenience.

It captures a way of anchoring learning theory and attention to the design, and separates the central issues from those of sheer meaning which obsess programmers, and those of sheer approachability and engagement that obsess artists.


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