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On the Secret Life of Things – Familiar objects, new behaviours

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Created by Steffen Hartwig, On the Secret Life of Things is a series of experimental prototypes that explore the new and ubiquitous rituals of everyday life. By repurposing familiar objects, the project re-imagines them for the age of information. A calculator no longer needs to calculate, a power strip does not simply provide power and the phone no longer needs humans to be operated. These objects nonetheless still perform their basic functions, but are mediated through information networks.

Today we are surrounded by new, digital objects. But the things we thought we know somehow changed. Electronic things start to communicate with us and each other, they radically change our everyday life and actions. The objects don’t look spectacular or new, one seems to recognize something in each one of them. They were created on the basis of well-known things everybody knows from their life. They pick up properties of the new things that easily disappear in the rumpus of digitalization. The new things start to act and make decisions autonomously – a behavior we previously knew only from living beings.

The names of the objects have been borrowed from classical myths and legends, where inexplicable events and phenomenon were explained with gods and spirits. This reference establishes an analogy, that is far away from technical details and creates a new perspective for viewing the objects.

PYTHIA

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Pythia is a calculator that doesn’t calculate. It is connected to the internet, the entered task is sent to a server that solves the equation. The device just displays the received answer. The name was borrowed from Pythia, the priest of the oracle of delphi. She contacted the god Apollon and answered the questions of those that sought advice.

PLUTOS

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Plutos is a power strip that tracks the German stock index DAX. At a negative change, both outlets are switched off. Growth of up to one percent will switch on one outlet, at more than one percent both become available. Plutos was the personification of the resources that come from the earth. He was blinded by Zeus and distributed his gifts randomly, those who received the wealth were not always the ones who deserved it.

PYRAMUS & THISBE

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Pyramus and Thisbe are two telephone receivers that don’t need a user. They exist autonomously and talk to each other while they lay side by side. They fall silent when separated from each other. According to a saga Pyramus and Thisbe were lovers in the ancient Babylon. Their parents lived in enmity so they had to conceal their relationship and could only communicate secretly.

LAR

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The monitor of an intercom is repurposed as a Lararium. The Lar determines the volatile IP address by which the home is reachable from the internet at present. It replaces the static ‘home sweet home’ embroidery. Lares were spirits of certain families or places. They were worshipped in a domestic shrine, the Lararium.

KAIROS

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Kairos seems to be a professional device with a serious purpose. But after brief consideration every request is refused with a polite but assertive ‘I would prefer not to.’ The purpose and motivation of Kairos remains unknown. Kairos was the god of the opportune moment for a decision. Mythology is dominated by heroic deeds and the motif of withdrawal is rare. But sometimes heroes refused a call when it was the right thing to do.

For more info on this project, see links below.

Project PageSteffen Hartwig