Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Short Synopsis of The Screwdriver Collection

Screwdriver Collection Icon
         The Screwdriver Collection was formed to visually represent the use of a singular object that can be used to carry out multiple tasks. The collection is a series of video clips documenting over a years worth of investigations of the social interaction between a person and an assortment of uses with a screwdriver. This short synopsis of The Screwdriver Collection will present my material culture research pertaining to classification of an object within functional terms.
Example of "Proper Functions" from the Screwdriver Collection

Beth Preston, Professor of Philosophy, presents the adversary theories of function in current philosophical literature. [1] The two theories are proper functions and system functions. A proper function is what a thing or object is “designed” to do. The system functions are defined as a thing or object used for an occasional other purpose than the original design was meant for.[2]  Referring to the Screwdriver Collection as an example of the two function theories, the collection has three video clips of a proper function. All three clips are documentation of tightening or loosening a screw. This is shown with unscrewing an electrical socket plate cover from the wall, attaching a screw into a piece of wood, and unscrewing the handle of a utility knife to expose the blade. 
Example of "System Functions" from Screwdriver Collection
System functions are demonstrated with the remaining video clips in the collection, along with the acknowledgment of the collection theme. A couple examples of a system functions in the collection are using the screwdriver as a letter opener and for opening the lid of a paint can. Preston refers to Robert Cummins analysis to how system functions are established. The thing or object’s tendency or character that contributes to performing a certain role within a context of a system establishes the function.[3] The screwdriver’s role with the activity of opening a letter establishes the screwdriver as a temporary letter opener. 
Preston sites the differences between proper functions and system functions. She explains her pluralist view of the two theories that they are both distinct, along with that system functions have the opportunity to evolve into proper functions over time.[4] This evolutionary concept tends to relate to Ruth Millikan’s theory and definition of the term “proper function.” Millikan’s theory is that proper functions are established directly. This entails the proper function (of a thing or object) successfully being performed and the survival of the performance being passed down from ancestors.[5]  While there are many factors of how a system functions can become established, Preston argues toward Cummin’s analysis that a system functions is established by the role within a contained system. Preston continues that even though Cummin’s theory is intended not to include the role of a human within the context of the system, there is flexibility in Cummin’s theory to include the intention of humans with using objects when they are active participants within the context of a system.[6]  
            Preston’s suggestion with the flexibility of Cummin’s theory refers to the introduction of Preston’s text on Proper Function and System Function. Preston presents three human roles (agents) relating to the two theories. The roles are designer, maker, and user. Depending on the object and the situation these roles can have a single individual involved with the roles or be performed by different individuals.  The intentions of the designer and the user are involved with implying the two theories.[7]
            The Screwdriver Collection does have some absences of other participants sharing their use (proper or not) of a screwdriver. The entirety of the collection was formed by my role as the performer with the social interactions. This was not intended to be the focus of forming this collection theme; I have not had the opportunity to include the tasks of other people.
            Considering my investigations of forming the Screwdriver Collection and my material culture research, I have learned through my recent media research that I need to consider another form of social interaction between people and objects for future themes. These concepts will be used to consider the human-to-computer interaction. This type of interaction is also known as the “Internet of Things.”[8] The “Internet of Things” involves an object with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip[9] that can be operated by an offsite digital device, such as a Smartphone. These things or objects, also known as Smart Objects, have a different kind of approach to my concept of social interaction with people and objects. Instead of directly being touched by human hands the signal transmitted from another digital device (by human hands) provides the activity or function of the object.[10]  The “Internet of Things” includes addition digital devices (objects) and the technology aspect alters Millikan’s theory of proper functions. Millikan’s theory is established with the function of the human hand grasping and gripping. While this theory does apply to using certain digital objects, there is an absence with the direct contact between human and an object or thing with the “Internet of Things” concept. As I investigate more into these ideas for the collection project, I will need to consider digital objects as a “middleman” for the concept of social interaction.      

[1] Beth Preston, “The Case of the Recalcitrant Prototype,” in Doing Things with Things, eds. Alan Costall, Ole Dreier (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2006) 18
[2] Ibid 17
[3] Ibid 17
[4] Ibid 18
[5] Ibid17
[6] Ibid17
[7] Ibid 15 - 16

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Connection Anaysis and The Can Opener Collection

Can Opener Collection Icon
The Can Opener Collection presents a variety of ways to view the activity of opening a can. The most recent additions to the Can Opener Collection were in May 2012. My collecting process has slowed down with this theme for the “collection” project. This blog post is a short analysis of my research pertaining to material culture concepts and the Can Opener Collection.
            The video clips from the collection theme present the social interaction between a person and various styles of can openers. This video representation is presenting the tangible and intangible processes of the use of a can opener. The tangible aspect of the process is the final result of using a can opener, which is to open a lid of a can. The intangible concept relates to the knowledge obtained from the process of using a can opener as a functional tool. Even though I have concentrated on documenting the detailed activity of opening a can with the medium of video, there are several additional material culture theories that I have acknowledge. 
            For this post, I am referencing archeologist, Ian Hodder’s argument pertaining to the forms of connections between objects (things).[1]  Hodder’s book, Entangled, is aimed toward “Bridging the divide between human-centeredness and thing-centeredness…” The concept of bridging the divide is concerned with exploring the human dependence on things and how objects (things) are not “fixed,” but are connected to other things.[2] Hodder uses the term heterogeneous assemblages to relate connections between activity, social, and cultural conditions with the human relations to things.[3] 
             Hodder’s detailed example of human connections to things is of the cultural act of making a fire. He visually maps out the networks of the initial acts to fire making by the tools and processes involved. This visual accompanies the text to present the stages in the connections. These stages range from the singular act of a person striking a flint in creating fire to the involvement of social units cutting and collecting wood to provide warmth, along with being included with the process of cooking food with fire.[4] Hodder’s example refers to the primitive aspects of the connections of humans and things.
            My collection of video clips of the interactions with can openers is related to the industrial revolution time period. I have used Hodder’s methods of mapping out the networks of the can opener with the basic concepts of the heterogeneous assemblages. My visual map is included with this blog post. In the layout of the map I have considered a singular act, which is the adaptation of the design of the can. Instead of needing a tool (the can opener) to open the can, the can is adapted to have a can opener attached. This is known as the easy open lid. As for the involvement of social units, I examined the broader aspect of human food consumption and the process of canned food preservation on a mass production scale.
            I wanted to expand the visual layout of network mapping from my material culture research[5] and art-based research.[6] My inclusion of images of the objects with the text and geometric shapes is in regards to the archiving process of my “collection” project. I have included a reference of a visual representation with the archiving and documentation process of everyday objects from the industrial revolution used in the 21st Century. This archiving process is not intended to imply that these objects will disappear any time soon from the everyday use in western culture. These methods and “historic” research have future opportunities to be used toward my expansion of the collection with “everyday” digital objects. 

Even though the Can Opener Collection theme hasn’t been added to in over a year, I am not finalizing the collecting process. I am open to the collection being added to with a new concept or collaboration that will investigate this “everyday” tool and process with broader social and cultural research.

[1] Ian Hodder, Entangled An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things (West Sussex, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) 42
[2] Ibid. 41
[3] Ibid. 44
[4] Ibid.44 - 45
[5] Ian Hodder, Entangled An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things (West Sussex, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) pg. 45 Figure 3.1 and pg. 46 Figure 3.2 and 3.3.
[6] Carole Gray and Julian Malins, Visualizing Research (Hants, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004) 52-57.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lending Media, Objects, and Humans as a Source of Information

              Libraries are broadening the definition of resources by offering other forms of access to information within their communities. The resources are based on the idea of increasing circulation at the library and a transition in media use. This text references an “online” series that was published by National Public Radio (NPR) about some of the current programs concerning the reinvention of the physical presence of a library.
            My interest in the series was the integration of objects and experiences of people within a library’s circulation of information. Included in the realm of circulation is the public availability of media devices and software located at the library’s site. The lending of objects and time with people enables an experience beyond the common printed book material known with libraries. Two examples given in the Beyond Books: Libraries Lend Fishing Poles, Pans, and People article are from a library in Rochester, New York and an adaptation of an international program that initiates a diverse dialog.
            The library in Rochester collaborated with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and a local Fish and Game Club to offer the circulation of fishing poles and related equipment. Since the area has fishing year around the library’s director saw it as a way to connect visitors of the library with their community.[1] The opportunity of borrowing a fishing pole gives people a chance to experience fishing possibly for the first time.
            Loaning out people was organized in a different manner than the objects. The Providence Community Library in Rhode Island modified an international program, The Human Library: What’s Your Prejudice?, that encourages dialogue among people with diverse backgrounds or beliefs. The Providence Community Library coordinator of the program sized down the international program to the diverse range of people and their experiences who are in their community. The coordinator stated in the article the public library has contact with all walks of life.
With the library’s application process for the program they were able to obtain a collection of forty “human books.” These “human books” are cataloged and patrons of the library could borrow the people, which entails sitting down with the person for a twenty-minute conversation about their experiences. The Providence Community Library is organizing another Human Library event since the first year went well. If the second event is received as well as the first the library will consider adding the circulation of “human books” on a regular basis.[2] 
            At several libraries, the circulation of media is acknowledged by onsite access. The majority of libraries do lend movies, music, and games. Some libraries have offered gaming access at the library, for example an after school time period for teens. A Houston Public Library Youth Services Manager stated in an NPR article that offering that teen time frame has increased the circulation of books as well as families use of the library. The manager specifically mentions the use of computers, because there are families that either don’t own a computer or have no Internet access at home.[3]
            The libraries offering the circulation of digital devices to individuals who have no or limited access to technology is contributing to bridging the digital divide. In my January 17, 2013, Community Response to the Digital Divide, I refer to other programs that are acknowledging it in specific communities. Two of the programs, Google Fibers and Philadelphia Keyspots were mainly focused on offering the community Internet access and a community site with computers.
Other libraries have incorporated a digital commons area to their site. These digital commons go beyond Internet access and have available diverse styles of computers, digital devices, and creative software for public access.[4]
            This NPR library series presents how some libraries are incorporating circulation of experiences and media devices to accommodate public access to information. The series contains insights of public institutions with digital common areas for future proposals of restaging ideas or contributing ideas to the collection project.