Last week The Daily Beast featured this multi tool as a useful item you should have in your pocket to address a variety of needs and it made me a bit nostalgic.

My father, like his brothers and their father before them and probably lots of my generation’s fathers and grandfathers, carried a pocketknife with him most every day. It was a small, single-bladed knife that, when folded, was no longer than an index finger. He slipped it into his right front pocket along with his keys whether he was going outside to work in the garage, heading out to the movies, going to church or on his way to work.

So, to be clear, he had a knife on him much of the time, right up to the moment where doing so would have resulted in his arrest and his name being added to a watchlist of some sort.

He didn’t carry it for defense. This isn’t a “good guy with a knife” situation. He just had it for exactly the sorts of things that this new, expensive multi tool and others like it are meant to take care of. The blade was for cutting or opening things. The butt end, when closed, could be used to tap something back into place when it went ajar.

I’m fairly sure many people who knew my father at the time knew he carried a pocketknife with him much of the time. I don’t remember him being shy about pulling it out if it was needed in a situation. The people on the Metra probably didn’t, but that’s fine. It was the 70s and 80s and pragmatic utility was still an understandable rationale. Now, though, if someone saw him pull out a pocketknife in order to open a package on his desk he’d be hauled away, not greeted with admiration for being prepared.

Is that multi tool really any safer, though? It certainly doesn’t seem like it. It’s got a number of points and edges, more so than a simple pocketknife and would actually seem to be a bit more dangerous. But this is held up as some sort of essential item with which to navigate modern urban life, while a single-blade knife identifies you as a potential crazy person.

This seems like a situation where ignorance and branding do more harm in connection with one another than anything else. The knife is branded a “weapon” while the very similar “multi tool” is branded an “accessory” despite having very similar usefulness as well as risk for harm.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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