Does Size Really Matter?

Monday, February 17th, 2014 by dparker90

I don’t want to give too much away from tomorrow’s presentation, but suffice it to say that I’ve been trying to incorporate the principles of Zielinski’s variantology in my MAL research with varying degrees of success and confusion (but that’s the point of this methodology, right?). I’ve been trying to forego my preconceived impressions of certain artifacts in the hopes that my encounters with them will be organic and informative. What I’ve found so far is that my experiences in the lab are often shaped – occasionally unbeknownst to me – by objects’ size. I’m thinking specifically of my recent experiments with the Lab’s magic lantern (early 20th-c), in which the physicality of the object played an enormous role in shaping my encounter with it. Taking the extremely heavy device off the shelf, I couldn’t find a place to set it up. This resulted in carrying it around the lab, trying to fit it on various surfaces near plugs. Once I finally set it down, it was difficult to maneuver so that the light would shine against a blank wall. Before I could even use the magic lantern for its intended purpose, I was struck by the (literal) weight of its object-ness.

I’m going to attempt what I hope is a Zielinski-esque analysis of my experience with the lantern: its sheer physicality led me to think about the sizes of contemporary devices, and how our emotive relationships with technology are determined by our interactions with them as objects. Trying to maneuver the lantern reminded me of setting up my 1999 Samsung TV (see what I just did? Deep time jump!), which proved similarly resistant because of its enormous back. The largeness of these technologies calls to mind the contemporary emphasis on smallness in modern technological marketing. I mean, I bought my MacBook Air because it only weighs 3 pounds! Unlike the lantern and old TV that resist portability, most of my recently developed devices – MacBook, iPad, iPod – seamlessly merge into my everyday activities in part because of their sheer lack of mass.

This leads me back to Deleuze. I wonder if increasingly tiny technologies are another aspect of societies of control; in contrast with the heavy magic lantern, I sometimes forget that my devices are objects separate from myself. My iPod’s so tiny that I can put it in my armband while jogging, as though it’s an extension of my body. The inconspicuous size of this technology allows it to shape my experiences without drawing attention to itself as object.

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One comment on “Does Size Really Matter?

  1. kylebickoff says:

    You pay particular attention to the size and weight of these objects of technology–I wonder if your attention might indicate a societal change rather than a solely a change in our technology. You mention “its sheer physicality led me to think about the sizes of contemporary devices, and how our emotive relationships with technology are determined by our interactions with them as objects.” I ask, what is the detriment of a technology with a large weight and size? Answer: moving it.

    We’re certainly moving objects more than ever. These magic lanterns would likely never have left a predefined space–they are delicate instruments and might ideally sit in the same position for many years. But when you mention the television, I think you really hit on something–we live in a far more physically mobile society. We can travel easily with our devices, and we can move across the country because of both the infrastructure and machinery in place which make it possible.

    But more than this, there seems to exist a certain expectation for ‘technological connection.’ An email I don’t respond to in 24 hours is considered ‘late.’ We necessarily take our phones with us to campus, often our computers, and any other number of devices to connect/occupy the user. I must carry these devices around with me constantly.

    Thinking about this, I feel weighed down. I have to carry devices everywhere. But is my 4 oz phone really that light? And the ~5lb computer I carry all over? To me, I think they’re heavier than the 50 lb magic lantern. They’re heavier because I carry them everywhere. All the time. The projector is lighter because we never carry it.

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