Objectifiable

Having somehow managed to miss each and every pass Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica took through NYC, I was thrilled to catch the New York premiere of Objectified last week. Like it or not—and I’m definitely in the “like” camp—Hustwit and cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler have put together two solid treats for design fans, with word that a third is in the works. Post-screening, Hustwit, Geissbuhler, and designer Karim Rashid (who also appears in the documentary) took a few moments to mix it up with the audience in an open Q&A session.

Echoing points made by Rob Walker towards the end of the documentary, it wasn’t long before someone put the doomsday scenario to the trio: If the hurricane was barreling down upon you, and you only had seconds to save a few treasured items before you dashed out the door, what would you take?

It occurred to me that my own answer really shelves the kind of personal nostalgia this question is typically hunting after, probably saying less about me than it does about the times in which we’re just beginning to live.<p/>

I’d grab the same three objects I check are on my person before I walk out the door every morning:

Smartphone. Wallet. Keys. In that order.

That’s it.

Why? It’s about access—and to a slightly lesser degree, authentication—in a world of distributed systems.

These are the means, in compact form, by which I can obtain the vast majority of the other material goods, services, or vital information I might need, both in crisis and everyday life. (Provided the systems that support them are still functional. Which, granted, as of now can still sometimes be a very big “if.”)

Life among truly distributed support systems is predicated on information about the system itself. I’m not as concerned with the items the system delivers as how they can be delivered because, if things are working, the objects can ultimately be replaced at one cost or another. (Touching on sustainability, this also implies the system should be able to reabsorb and redistribute objects and their constituent components accordingly—something we obviously have a lot of work to do on.)

For objects that are truly so imbued with personal stories that the real value in them can not be duplicated at any cost (think, “I’d take Uncle Fred’s old golf clubs. It’s a funny story…”) well, at the risk of sounding cold, better to have saved yourself and ensured you have the means to conduct your affairs and aid others.

Credit to Rashim, the designer of the trio, for pointing out as much. Ultimately the objects are replaceable, he noted, “You are not.”

Surprising, one might think, given that his life revolves around creating so many of the items I’m cavalierly talking about abandoning at a moment’s notice. But perhaps being such a prolific creator as he is, he’s well aware that the object itself is not where irreplaceable value lies.