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

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