Thursday, December 13, 2007

evocative objects

In reading Sherry Turkle's (2007) book, Evocative objects. Things we think with. I am provoked; the essay on cell phones has yet to be written. In its absence i write the chapter myself. Fanfiction for the Fanfact world?

Objects speak in ways that destroy the simple stories of relating. This theme is enlarged upon in the writing of Bruno Latour (1996). In my own story, i too find complexity; a not so simple story of relating. In Turkle's book, each narrative is paired with a short excerpt drawn from theory, talking philosophy down to earth. The excerpt I have chosen is taken from Annmarie Mol's, "The body multiple."

...a philosophical narrative. If we focus on foregrounding the practices inside of which objects are handled, the far reaching effect is reality multiplies. If practices are foreground there is no longer a single passive object, instead objects come into being, and disappear, with the practices in which they are manipulated. This begs the question of how they are related. For even if objects differ from one practice to another, there are relations between these practices. Far from being fragments, these objects hang together, somehow. The question rather than uncovering some truth, is how are objects handled in practice. The objects handled in practice are not the same from one site to another; so how does the coordination between such objects proceed? And how do different objects that go under a single name avoid clashes and explosive confrontations? And might it be if there are tensions between them, various versions of an object sometimes depend on one another.
"If it is not removed from the reality that sustains it, reality is multiple."
Paraphrasing Ann Marie Mol, The body multiple. Ontology in medical practice.

My cell (mobile phone) is a bridge crossing distance, time, relationships and is integral in my transition.
She helps me manage my life, my engagements and disengagements.

The first cell (phone) was a present, then the present got a present, dressed up and personalised both on the inside (with her own directory of contacts, ringtones to differentiate mine from others...and also on the outside. A pretty cover to shelter her from an inclement environment such as being dropped, or the tortures of being stuffed in a pocket,a handbag or chucked in the car. Personalisation also decreased the risk of mistaken ownership; accidental or by theft.

I found she extended my reach; no more waiting by a phone for a call. Such a quaintness associated with memories of aged love.
Though the expectations of being forever available to the reach of others became a source of contention. "I tried to call you, turn your phone on." I wanted to throw her off the harbour bridge. I liked the convenience of calling out, I resented the intrusive beck and call nature it placed on my relationship. "Leave me messages that would make me want to hear you, i would reply. But I kept her; the ph. that is. And the relationship :)

She evolved, I still use prepay, and so there are reasonably frequent times when she's not topped up and i cant call or txt. Her charge holds fairly well- a few days at least, and her reception is considerably better than earlier incarnations. She's evolved, newer renditions have made her smaller, though her functionality is considerably enhanced. My functionality too has increased. I am more intune with her, I keep her on, she's almost always with me: keys, money, cell phone.
I am dependent; I have handed over part of my brain to her, she is now part of my external memory: for phone numbers, addresses, hairdressing appointments.... She is my surrogate timekeeper, alarm, clock, mini sized torch, camera... And security blanket.

I had a miscarriage while away on a writing retreat, and my cell became my best friend. Supported, she enabled me. I could stay in contact with the people i cared about, and who cared for me, as i got myself home the 200km needed. She contributed to my safety but also bridged love and belonging.

For my daughter, her cell too provides a sense of belonging, enhancing what it is to be human. Always tethered Turkle says, but there is also a knowing; a comfort that others are there. Anytime, always. She has friends, many of them, affirmed by a contact list. Security comes in a slim purple chic package of sophistication and aesthetic beauty. I feel safer in trusting the cell connection that our daughter can go further; do more. Tethered risk enhancement.

My cell has taught me a new language, txt. 160 characters or less shapes each message. I use even fewer:
c u soon.
am l8.
call me.
Am at *bucks
Each txt demonstrating variations on a theme:
I don't want to speak to you but will leave you a message.
I don't want to speak to you; either you or this message is of less financial value, than the pittance a call would cost.
I don't want to speak to you, but i need you to get it right- i txt what i want you to remember: there's the shopping list, the address, the time, there is no room for denial.
I want to know what you're doing, I remind you of my 'presence'. Do you respond? Do i still matter? i want you to know that i matter, im here, i care, i want you to care, notice me!

4 me 2 txt takes 2 hands, and reading glasses. I know im old when I txt. A default grammatical correction corrects me now in the use of my first language; i becomes I, but she does not know what to do with im. I choose to ignore the niceties of language construction. My sentences get shorter. My words shorten, was ok not short enough? K. My punctuation worsens and predictive txt brings a whole new level of confused relating.
"Dad has alot me rain"
Half a world away an answer, huh?

My cell is moody, she can be quiet in meetings, if I engage with her according to her rules. There is need to demonstrate the correct etiquette to make this happen. Neglected, she has a life of her own. She can at inopportune times draw attention to herself; our initial appointment with the school principal was interrupted by the attention seeking chirruping incoming txt message. At other times she spontaneously elects not to function. I nurture her, feed her with prepay, charge her up. In an act reminiscent of open heart surgery I open her up investigate her internal workings, take the battery out, remove her sim card, put her back together, watch for life to spring forth. She needs my care. And I am careful of her (one of her relatives was killed in a horrible washing machine incident). Smallness paradoxically increases some vulnerabilities but decreases others. She has learned to manage me better.
Our symbiotic relationship works. I am/We are technically co-dependent. Technologically enhanced, I am provocatively cyborg Donna Haraway (1991) expands on this shifting quality of the human species. A hybrid of machine and organism; we are shaped in relation to each other.

Having fun in the funhouse, with mirrors reflecting on mirrors on mirrors, I thought I had a cell phone, but now she has me.
"You think you have an organizer, but in time, your organizer has you" (Turkle, 2007, p. 310).
And you, thought you were reading a blog?
Has it taken you?
Reality is multiple.

Latour, B. (1996). Aramis: or the love of technology (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Haraway, D. (1991). "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature New York; Routledge.
Mol, A. (2002). The body multiple: ontology in medical practice. London: Duke University Press.
Turkle, S. (2007). Evocative objects. Things we think with. London; MIT Press.

1 comment:

  1. I am also thinking about Haraway's "Companion Species Manifesto" in relation to this - My copy is in my office, but I think the quote is something like "our companion species shape us as we shape them."

    In a related matter, I am starting an online ANT community blog (

    So far I have enrolled two other Phd Students using ANT in their research, and starting in January we will set up a schedule - each week someone in the group will pick an ANT or related paper, and then the members of the community can post their different thoughts on one article.

    Are you interested in participating?