This user exploration was run as a questionnaire via social media. I asked users a handful of questions regarding an object they loved.
- Total respondents: 25
- Number who did not submit a picture: 13
- Number who ranked themselves in the top third for how often they think of they past: 16
- Number who chose an object that reminded them of something: 12
- Number who chose an object that enabled then to do something: 5
- Number who chose an object of comfort: 5
- Number whose reason was unclassifiable: 2
To begin, just going through the responses was harder than I expected. It felt very personal to read people relating their impressions of things they love, and I am always a little wary of intruding on people’s more intimate moments. (I also don’t like it when nature shows run footage of animals having sex. I have a lot of feelings about privacy regardless of species, I guess.) But once I got over that, I found the results to be a successful survey of how people talk about objects they love and a decent ground for a few new tendrils to consider.
It seems that people who think about their past often, tend to touch the objects they love sometimes or often. Rare-touchers, on the other hand, are spread across the spectrum. Chosen objects also tended to be things that remind people of people and moments in time, though comfort and object as vector of capability were also reported.
In the more qualitative responses, lurked some great quotes, in particular this note, from Chris:
One really interesting thing, at least to me, about this bizarre and probably unhealthy upwelling of feeling I have is that it isn't about the specific physical instance of the device. I could drop this one in a lake accidentally and, after the time and inconvenience of obtaining another and restoring its state, that would be “my iPhone”.
This clearly rhymes with some of the ideas at play in cybernetic theory and post-humanism, most particularly the idea of the uploaded consciousness. And Chris was not the only person to choose a computer or phone, two others joined in; another person chose their TV. Rocks were also popular choices for lovable objects, as were pieces of jewelry, which are essentially rocks optimized for carrying about on one’s body. Another person chose a piece of wood used when learning to drill.
It is charming and hopeful how easily we form bonds with the least and most manufactured of objects.
However, while the questionnaire was a good way to get a jumpstart on how people think about objects that are close to them, the format seems insufficient for real understanding. Interviews would be preferable, though they can be a very time-consuming way to collect data, especially if one wants to document each discussion. Without a transcription budget and the ability to devote the time to travel to people and really engage in their stories, I felt limited to a simple request for information, a way to trace one small scrap of the landscape.
Fortunately, people have spent countless hours — far more than this project has for all its phases — creating a rich literature on the lives of objects, memory, and love, and I have found these more helpful and less subject to my inept flailing. This week, I have read The Hare With Amber Eyes and more of Evocative Objects, and in each have found echoes and elaborations on the themes in the responses I received. The former, in particular, records the different roles the same objects may play from person to person, generation to generation, while also providing the kind of elegaic thoughts on ojects one might expect from a potter.
Following the compelling talk from Bill Gaver at colloquium, I plan to test my prototype by living with it for a while. (I may also recruit one or two people over the summer to do so as well.) In this way I might be able to test the object itself on a timeline that allows for deeper engagement and discovery. To prepare for this, I have interviewed myself and undertaken a mini-experiment on timing. This will be reported in the next post.