Dave Snowden

Of material objects

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The last three days have been bonus time with my trip to Tampa cancelled thanks to the impasse in the US Government (although I am not sure governance has anything to do with it).  I couldn't make that much use of them as I didn't know until late Friday.  I did manage to book myself a ticket for the opening Blues Heineken  match at Exeter which was a mistake (and no I don't want to talk about it yet) which took out most of Sunday.  I thought of taking the bike out on Saturday but by the time I had caught up on sleep, handled the cat's need for attention and generally sorted out taking clothes to the local taylor for alternation and dealing with the post it was late afternoon.  Today has carried on that theme.  Clearing email and generally getting the study to the point where I can see the floor and the surfaces again.

I am in the midst of preparing to loose my much loved desk (pictured) which has to be replaced with something more orthopedically sound.  That is to say something flat that will move between a sitting and a standing position.  The compensation is that the thunderbolt screen ordered with my MacBook Air can then come into use and I can sit (or stand) looking out to the garden rather than facing a wall.  So when I get back home in November I am carving out three days to take down all the pictures, fill the holes and repaint the walls.  Then build new shelves (the Starbucks City Mug collection needs more space), reposition the speakers on the stereo and generally get things into a new order and pattern.

The need to create a new pattern and order every few years seems to be part of the cycle of life.  Re-ordering our physical environment changes the cognitive patterns of the way we think and act.   I'm interested to see how a pattern of pressing a button to stand up and type for periods will change the way I think.  Also having a small portable computer (I am already thinking of not replacing my iPad or of shifting to the mini) with a much larger screen than the old 17″ should create two physically triggered patterns between working at home and working away from home.  Moving from the corner of the room with a bureau desk, to an open desk with views of the garden should also result in some change.

My main reading at the moment has been in the material objects literature and also the fascinating (and for me newly discovered) field of cognitive archeology.   We are homo faber (an idea that has grown beyond its first articulation by Arendt)as much as we are homo narrans and the faber-narrans link is a part of what it means to be homo sapiens.  Our capacity to create and to tell stories are less about ourselves and more about our social interactions over time and in context.  We are a part of the physical world not separate from it.  Think of how apps have changed our lives.  Most people end up walking around with their smart phones in their hands as the ability of use a material object of desire to create a new social interaction is both cathartic and transformative in practice.  

The key thing is that we take the device/tool into our physical environment we do not move ourselves into a virtual one.  If you genuinely believe in the singularity then your brain has probably ossified to the point where it could transfer to a computer.  We need the physical and the virtual spaces of our imagination to maintain our overall intelligence as a species.