I’m Wary of Objects

I’ve been reading about “Evocative Objects” which is to say I’ve been reading stories about folks who can tie their development to certain objects.  For Sherry Turkle, “We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.
And I’m wary of this logic. Defining ourselves in terms of an encounter with one object?

While it is true that we all encounter objects, I’m not convinced we’re all transcended by objects.  I could to tie myself to a particular object, but I don’t feel as if that’s a complete story.  However, I do believe in the powerful effect of autobiography.  Viewing objects as one approach to self-expression is an interesting path, as an anchoring one, I’m a bit suspicious.

Can we consider development in terms of “experiences” or “constellations of experiences” that occasionally involve objects, occasionally several objects?  Which is not to say I’m dismissive of objects, or don’t value how people use them. I found Dr. Turkle’s exploration of children’s development in terms of realizing what objects have “inner life” compelling:

“By age eight, the same child might have learned to make a distinction between spontaneous movement (movement that an object can generate by itself) and movement imposed by an outside agent.  This allows ‘the alive’ to be restricted to things that seem to move of their own accord: a dog, of course, but also the sun, the rain, a cloud. An object drops out of this category of alive when the child discovers outside force that accounts for its motion. So, at eight, the river may still be alive, because the child cannot yet account for its motion as coming from ‘outside of itself’ but the stone and the bicycle are not alive, because the child can” (From Child Philosophers, p. 43)

Last week I was wheeling my suitcase down North 3rd Street in Philadelphia.  My suitcase has 4 wheels, which enables me to move it beside me (the design is something like this).  As we walked toward the car, a puppy started barking wildly at it, moving away from it. The mysterious moving suitcase “spooked it.” I’ve also seen dogs react to bikes in a similar way–they don’t like how the objects seem to move of their own accord.

I think there’s a relative of that suspicion in adults when they first use a technology. If you hand a smart phone to someone for the first time, they’ll react with curiosity and try to push buttons.  A second common reaction is “can it see me?” i.e. “is this device recording my actions or monitoring me?” An extremely common next interaction is that a program moves too fast or shuts the user out–and the user gets rattled or nervous, and they drop it.

In that moment, even in our adult stage of development, those objects have inner life which “spooks” the user.


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