Paula Zuccotti’s Every Thing We Touch is more than a meditation on the mundane—it’s a kind of “future archeaology.”
Seeing the world and documenting the mundane through smartphone photos and image-sharing apps like Instagram is a near-ubiquitous practice these days. And with this development, the objects we interact with every day have become, in some ways, like cinematic props or set pieces—their function playing second fiddle to their form and appearance.
But in Paula Zuccotti’s new book, Every Thing We Touch: A 24-Hour Inventory of Our Lives, these quotidian objects take center stage. In addition to highlighting the everyday objects we interact with, Zuccotti’s work shows just how quickly products like smartphones and tablets are making things like calendars, calculators, and stereos obsolete, and the impact this will have on ourselves and future generations.
Zuccotti’s project, which eventually will include a film, required that people document everything they touch over the course of a 24-hour period. She tells GOOD that the idea, which started as a Sunday project, came from her background as a product designer, ethnographer, and trend forecaster.
“For the past 15 years I have traveled the world, running over 100 ethnographic and trend-mapping projects studying the relationships between people and products: those they use and those they do not even know exist yet,” she explains. “As an industrial designer, ethnographer, and forecaster, my expertise is anticipating the future scenarios that people will find themselves in and the products they are going to need and want.”
The people in the book are a mixture of people Zuccotti knows (friends and family members) and individuals whose jobs or hobbies intrigued her, including a geisha, a cowboy, and a lion dancer. Zuccotti also searched out artists, particularly when she was in Melbourne, Australia. This often meant she found subjects by losing herself on the internet—following links, and then links of friends of friends.
In her work, Zuccotti has seen firsthand how the behaviors of people across the globe are being altered by technology as it infiltrates every aspect of human life. Through work at her consultancy and research laboratory The Overworld, Zuccotti has witnessed how clients no longer request that the company research individual products. The company is no longer asked to investigate how people watch TV, for example; instead they are tasked with predicting “the future of entertainment.”
“This erodes the links between behavior and objects, affecting the semantics of how we interpret things,” Zuccotti says. “If we see someone with a book, we know they are reading, but someone holding a tablet could be watching a movie, booking a holiday, shopping, or making a video.”
“As technology becomes more embedded and invisible, it changes our physical interactions with things, sometimes further reducing them, sometimes giving us new objects to play with,” she adds. “In light of these rapid shifts, 2015 seems a ripe moment to capture our objects as they stand today—and their roles as narrators of personalities, preferences, and emotions.”
For example, Zuccotti says that only two people in the book “touched” music. Indeed, few people actually touch music these days—vinyl and cassette enthusiasts aside. And yet, as Zuccotti muses, music has always been an incredible expression of who we are and a means of locating what our taste and values might be.
“Our current interaction with objects is something I felt the urge to document,” Zuccotti says. “Many of the things we know about past civilizations are from insights gathered through their objects. Their possessions, tools, utensils, clothes, manuscripts, and art have taught us about the type of work they did, what they hunted, grew and ate, and how they expressed themselves.”
Zuccotti wonders if our technologically advanced objects will do the same. For her, the images act as a kind of “future archaeology,” or time capsule—something that people will hopefully enjoy looking back on in the coming years. With so many things, including lives, existing inside the ether of the internet, and the age of augmented and virtual realities upon us, perhaps future generations will experience and understand the current world through some kind of highly advanced digital realm instead of a multifaceted physical one.
So Zuccotti is right to wonder if, in the dynamism of modernity, our lives’ many shades and complexities will be lost to, or at least confused by, rapidly evolving technology.
Click here to learn more about Paula Zuccotti’s Every Thing We Touch project.