006: Abstract and Outline


Towards a Theory of Invested Objects investigates the necessity for and possible characteristics of a series of invested objects. By refusing to be watchers but instead taking up a position as talismans, invested objects can work in a small way to reverse the surveillance-based character of contemporary digital objects. If, as suggested by N. Katherine Hayles, feedback loops are characteristic of the relationships between material culture and conceptual ideas, then we may perhaps advocate for a better culture by creating better objects.

I will then look forward to what the properties of such an object might be — in particular by making a case for memory as material and content, experience as mode, lichen as metaphor. Private and shared memory, Proust and Perec, will be considered alongside the scientific mechanisms of recall and remembrance. As crystallizations of intense moments, as fragments reinvested by repeated consideration, as a low hum behind the everyday, memories hold immense potential as a weapon of the imagination.


art, Fluxus, Internet of Things, Proust, memory, digital culture, material culture, human-computer symbiosis, human-computer interaction, cybernetics

Topic Description
The current symbiosis between small, networked objects and humans is framed mostly as surveillance-based (even if it is surveillance for good). This is a direct result of the framing of technical problems and uses.

The cultural ground for these works is constructed in reviewing the current state of networked objects and the technical concepts they embody. This hypothesis is also considered in reference to other refusals of the standard technical narrative, from the 80s through today.

What kind of object would be best used to show the potential of reversing this narrative? What kind of memory and experience exist and what case can be made for them?

Significance of the Topic / Socio­Political Impact

  • Imagine a better future and put it into the world
  • We are currently living out assumptions from the 50s and 60s, particularly the idea that information is disembodied and capturable (Hayles, Macy Confs.)
  • We can do better, using the very arguments that have people doing worse now ... the feedback between concepts and material culture

Arguments and Claims

  • Feedback loop in culture is a thing we can influence
  • The current loop is gross
  • We can influence through memory objects
  • Against: Digital is inherently different from analog and cannot serve the same ends (Turkle)
  • Against: Making machines “companionable” is the road to hell (Lanier)

Case Study Projects, Similar Projects or Inspiration Projects

  • My Life Bits (anti-inspiration)
  • A la recherche
  • Cildo Mierles
  • Lieux
  • My own Smell-o-gram
  • Fluxus touch boxes

Research Findings, Data and Numbers

  • The history of cybernetics from Hayles is a rich source for analysis into the ideas that underlie the last ~60 years of technical creation.

  • The various conceptions and genres of memory from Farr have been / will be helpful in thinking through and articulating just what is the memory to be targeted and its properties

  • Inner History of Devices and Evocative Objects contain qualitative data about the bonds humans can form with devices.

  • Papers from Hook and Isbister review cross-cultural interpretations of sculptural shapes and investigate methods for interactional empowerment, in particular ways to capture data while ensuring privacy.

  • Papers from Herz on olfactory memory and its differentiation from audiovisual (and also haptic?)

We have the power to imagine and insatiate better uses of technology off the screen. By creating invested objects, we may feed into an inhuman system possibilities towards even better creations. Memory is a rich and rewarding content material for the first attempt at such.