ANTHROPOMORPHISM - Out of an Object's Perspective
Anthropomorphism - out of an object's perspective, a two sided project.
The anthropomorphic element of my project began with my personal relationship with my car. It seemed to enjoy turning every single ride into an experience of it's own. I felt it intentionally was aiming to teach me everything about cars that could possibly go wrong. And it did - my knowledge on cars has definitely expanded. "Thank you, Volvo-lemon".
The first part investigates the relationship between a single person and his/her electronic object in a domestic space. I asked over 60 people via Mechanical Turk if they experienced moodiness or attitude problems with their electronic objects. Their responses revealed that these relationships can be found everywhere - it's almost like a transcultural phenomena.
Here are a few examples of the stories I received:
One of the two lights in our bedroom only turns on when it wants to: sometimes it will be months before it suddenly allows us to turn it on for a few bright days before it then retreats back into hibernation. We have tried the conventional replacement of the bulb and jiggling of the fixture to no avail. When those methods failed we took to treating the light like a shy friend that just needs some space. Ultimately, we found that kind words and the occasional rub of the bulb allow us to have those few days of light.
I seem to believe that each of my cars has been a conscious, sentient being. My first vehicle, an 80s Honda Civic, was horribly mistreated by my father, so it was always rather edgy. I tend to take pretty good care of my cars, and so they come to appreciate, perhaps even care about me. My last car, a 2001 Toyota, was totaled in an accident in which I was not at fault. I was very distraught when I had to say goodbye to it.
Harry, my electric shaver, sometimes just doesn't work with me. My typical mornings are started taking Harry, my shaver, and getting rid of my facial hair. The problem is that when I have a date and want a closer shave I pull out my razor blade and shaving cream. The next time I go to use Harry, it is dead. Doesn't matter that I just charged it, it will not work for me until I soothe it by pulling it in and being nice to him.
Why do we seem to domesticate our electronic objects?
According to P. J. Asquith (1984) anthropomorphisms are part of our ordinary everyday speech: “Anthropomorphism arising through ordinary language terminology appears in reports carried out with scrupulous attention to objective methodology... simply as a result of the nature of our language... Reference to a conscious subject always slips in, whatever the disinfecting precautions, simply because language has been so framed as to carry it.” (Asquith 1984)
Now also think about this: currently we live in a time were children walk around with robotic dogs. Where alarm clocks speaks to us in the morning. Virtual pets die if we don't flood them with love and care. Computers go to "sleep" if we leave them alone or better they come to bed with us warming our laps while we read the latest gossip on facebook. It actually is no surprise that we think about our electronic objects in a human like/animated way, because most of them do have animal and human-like behaviors and characteristics, they are very animated. They blink, make noises and sounds, tell us for example when the ink cartridge is empty or when the battery needs to be recharged. These characteristics are definitely triggering our senses.
When we first purchase electronic objects we don't have a relationship. But the longer we own it the more we build one. It is learning about each others habits and vices, just like a friendship or marriage. We carry most of the EOs (electronic objects) closely with us where ever we go - is this not an intimate relation?
I think that there is still another significant reason why we have the urge to anthropomorphize with our EOs - they are inanimate, emotionless, man-made. They break, they stop working, but not because they want to make our life more difficult, because they JUST BREAK. Like us they are not perfect, but like ourselves and our cohabitants we want them to be perfect. We have certain expectations when we operate our EOs. Where do these expectations come from? Is it because we pay money for them or because of an advertisement? The market has us believe "this is the best product ever, it won't let you down." But then when it does, we don't know how to deal with it.
In Part A the stories and the processes led to a closer look at how objects view the world and how they perceive us interacting with them.
Already Marshall McLuhan (1967) made the point that shaping our tools also means that our tools shape us. Therefore I attached a spy cam to numerous inanimate objects, leaving us with a rather different perspectives. The aim was to follow McLuhans famous assumptions that an EO is a sort of crutch which we depend upon and which remains an external and independent object.
Trying to project ourselves in things that are close to us, like our inanimate objects, may have an effect in the long run. This playful mental training will enable us to put ourselves in the shoes of a cohabitant—for example roommates. This would prevent you from encountering them on a purely functional basis: as objects of our egos. What a mind game!