Things. The new thing

Are things the new thing?

At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal interviews anthropologist Genevieve Bell, who has some interesting things to say about the digital tribe and our personal technology, pointing out that e-reader sales are driven by women, that the kitchen seems to be one of the few places that people don't want gadgets, and that the automobile should give us an idea of the future of mediated experiences. But it was the following comment about the virtual revolution and its connection to 3-D printing that really grabbed my attention:

And it doesn't surprise me that after 10 years of early-adoptive dematerialization, all the identity work and now the seduction of physical objects has come back in full force. Now it's kind of a pendulum: we move between the virtual and the real a great deal. And we have historically--that's hardly a new thing. I suspect that part of what we're seeing with the Etsy maker and that whole spectrum is a kind of need for physical things because so much has become digital, and in fact, what's being manifested in some of these places is really a reprise of physical stuff. Physicality has kind of come back.

Leave it to the ever truculent Nick Carr to boil it down though:

Is the worm turning? Are we tiring of fiddling with symbols on displays, watching the pixels flow? Are we beginning to yearn for stuff again? Are things the new thing?

Given my role as the social media guy with the IdeaFestival, there is something about this particular way of talking that is like hiding out in plain sight, which is to say that I've had enough of the irony and the cleverness. Spending as much time as I do online, it reminds me of that episode of Star Trek where people willingly stepped inside phone-booth sized spaces to have their atoms scattered randomly, casualties of an interplanetary war fought with numbered lists. In this bloodless conflict, when your number was up, it was really up. Yes of course, digital technologies make connections that would otherwise not be possible, and years ago I remember arguing with Carr (online) about this very point (it was one-sided).

So tonight I'm thinking of spending time in the shop bringing out the lacing in some Sycamore that I've had stickered and drying for a couple years now. Working this particular wood with a finely tuned smoothing or jack plane sends up salmon colored see-through shavings, and sometimes I'll just stand there and enjoy the scent.

The shop, it always smells of orchard pears.


Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Theodore Scott