Social Objects & Invisible Connections

In the beginning, there were simple products – they were designed for specific tasks, and they worked to their full potential without needing anything outside of themselves. Take a hammer, for instance. It doesn’t require more than one hand (let alone more than one person!) to be used properly. It doesn’t need electricity to work. It doesn’t need the internet. It doesn’t need anything but physical contact and manipulation.

So many current products, however, are much different. Without battery power, a huge network of people, and the internet, the iPhone is simply a heavy block of shiny plastic and glass. Social objects are things like the iPhone – things that become something far greater than their physicality, and therefore gain new meaning. These objects may connect people within a room, or across the world.

Exactly what are they, and how do they become these objects?

Social objects can be anything. Often they are physical things, like telephones, fax machines, sandboxes, tables, mood rings, hot tubs, computers, and what have you. But they can also be non-physical entities like photos or music. These digital objects can become social objects through services like lastfm and flickr. Sharing is a key component of what makes an object become social. If you take a photo, and keep it to yourself, then no one else will know about it, and be able to share the experience of seeing that photo and talking about the memories the photo conjures. But when you can upload it for the world to see, tag it, and add your own story to it, then people all over the globe can start a dialogue about it. Thus it becomes greater than itself – embedded into it is not just an image, but a network of comments and reactions to that image. The same goes for music.

Turning something as arbitrary as a pen into a social object means that the pen has a story to it that others can participate in. If the pen can initiate a series of digital events, or store digital information, then it immediately adds to itself something greater than its simple physical presence. It gains invisible connections.

-Marc

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