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Rubbing Off the Skin of Your Soul: An Analysis of Fender’s Greatest Problem Child


Inside of the rehearsal space, floating atop a sea of tangled cables, an object lies along the floor. It measures at about 40 inches long, 13 inches wide, and weighs an estimated 8.5 lbs (Shine). The artifact appears to be an amalgamation of natural and technological features: its anatomy is comprised of two central pieces of wood, with various other elements like metals and plastics intertwined into the surface of the structure. With even just a light tap, the object begins to vibrate, causing a whir of buzzy noise to fill the room. Though mostly unmarked, the top end boasts the words “FENDER” and “VINTAGE MODIFIED JAZZMASTER” which are etched deeply into it. This object, known as an electric guitar, has earned its place among the most unique instruments in history. Though it has existed for less than a century, the conditions surrounding its history and design yielded an artifact that would transcend genres, symbolize developing countercultures, and provide an entirely new approach to creation and expression.

In order to understand how this instrument has achieved such major cultural significance, one must first look to the intricacies of its design. Though invisible to the naked eye, the inner workings of the object house a great deal of complex wiring, similar to the guts inside of living organisms. In fact, when scanning from top to bottom, there are several parts of this object that seem to be a reflection of human anatomy. The guitar features a “neck” 22.5 inches in scale, along with a “head” comprised of a front bulb metal pegs along the back. Likewise, the “body” section comes complete with parts such an arm, a back, and a “belly”. The body is a structure that is rather unorthodox. Forming no conceivably recognizable shape, it can only be defined by one feature: it’s curves. Though technically amorphous, the buxom design is uncannily similar to the hourglass shape of a woman’s body. This is the first of many signs that this artifact that was purposefully constructed to be admired and desired. The sense of allure is also particularly noticeable when considering the smooth polyester finish: featured in colors such as “cherry red”, “ice blue”, and “butterscotch”, the artifact now appears more akin to a voluptuous piece of candy.

Additionally, there are characteristics of the instrument that embody aspects of nature. Once again, much like a human’s anatomy, the make of this object is naturally flawed. A close examination of the wooden neck reveals it to be slightly bowed and crooked. Just as the human spine is prone to lose alignment under the stress and pulls of everyday life, so does this Jazzmaster under the tension of 6 metallic strings, and intense bending of the tremolo arm. The power of sound is often referred to as having a certain kind of “energy” or giving of certain “vibrations”. By examining the neck of the guitar, it’s clear to see how. Scaling from the nut to the bridge, one may notice that the space between each of the frets becomes increasing smaller as one travels down towards the body. Compare this to textbook examples of energy vibrations and the electromagnetic spectrum, and a diagram of the power of sound waves becomes revealed right before one’s very eyes.

Perhaps one of the biggest indications of the cultural significance of this object lies in the unusual complexity of the history that surrounds it. Judging by the limited wear on the body, and the text “Vintage Modified Jazzmaster” along the headstock, the artifact at hand is not an original model, but a reissue of one from previous decades. The fact that this model continues to be reproduced certainly suggests that it sold well, but in reality, the instrument was virtually ignored at the time of its market introduction. In 1958, the guitar was first produced and released by the Fender Electric Guitar Company as an upscale version of their legendary Stratocaster model. Leo Fender conceptualized the instrument as a “deluxe” guitar, and marketed it as having a more “mellow” sound, specifically to suit the needs of jazz guitar players. However, the fate of the guitar would forever be changed as neither jazz enthusiasts nor the burgeoning rock-and-rollers seemed to be interested in it. From my own experience, I would argue that this is due in part to the Jazzmaster’s hyper resonant qualities, which produced significantly more feedback and white noise than the typical electric guitar of the period. The hi-gain, punchy sound was simply too raucous for the golden generation, who valued harmony and simplicity over energy.

Take, for example, this clip of the Everly Brothers performing their hit “All I Have to Do is Dream” from 1958. Arguably one of the defining songs of this era, the sound of an electric Stratocaster is present, but is placed far in the background while the gentle pluck of acoustics hold dominion. Despite Leo’s vision, the culture that the Jazzmaster was introduced to could not utilize the potential that the technology offered. It would take nearly another 20 years for the landscape of popular culture to catch up with this noisy, wooden object.

However, generational displacement of objects is no anomaly; in fact, it could be argued that many of the world most culturally resonant objects (musical ones in particular) do not find cultural adoption until years after their initial inception. For example, in her essay “Lucubrations on a Lava Lamp”, Jennifer Roberts supports this notion by examining the history of one of the paradigms of the 1960’s. Though the object would become espoused in the digs of the psychedelic counter-culture, the “Lava Lite” was initially intended as a mainstream house hold item, meant for dinner tables, the tops of television sets or as one ad even states, “…perfect for the study or den, so right for the executive suite” (Roberts). Much like the Lava Lamp, the make of a Jazzmaster was an unusual blend between the organic and the technological: it utilized the same standard technology and materials as any other electric guitar of the period, but the combination of a free-floating bridge, tremolo arm, and single-coil electromagnetic pickups created a sound that was too discordant to be adopted by popular culture, and too early for the developing counter culture to be able to embrace it (Audiofanzine).

The Jazzmaster was certainly not the first popular guitar to be met with initial rejection. In fact, across the 84 years since the electric guitars inception, there have been at least 4 major shifts of preferences in body style and sound, each accompanying the evolution of trends in popular culture. For each one of these shifts in sound, the industry’s answer has always been a model that was introduced in previous years, but faced initial rejection by players and listeners alike. In order to understand how a commercially rejected guitar could eventually become a godsend for generations worth of underground musicians, one must first understand the musical climates that preceded it.

The first era spans from 1931 to 1963, beginning with Adolph Rickenbacker’s invention of the electromagnetic pickup, and ending with the rise of the British Invasion. This period emphasized smoother, non-invasive guitar sounds with minimal distortion. This clip of Elvis and his backing band embodies all of these characteristics, both visually and sonically. The featured guitar here is a 1950’s Gretsch archtop, a staple among players of this era. This model has an unusually wide, hollow-body with Filter’Tron style pickups to achieve a sound more akin to an acoustic instrument. It should be noted that in this footage, the electric guitar’s sound is buried in the background, as the piano remains the primary focus behind Elvis’ voice. This is rather unusual, considering that the inspiration behind creating the electromagnetic pickup was to allow the guitar a chance to be heard above other instruments. The fact that its sound remained so constrained during this era reveals much about the fears performers and music producers had about the power of this newfangled technology. In a culture that embraced large size and minimal volume, it’s clear to see how the sleek and noisy Jazzmaster model would fail to resonate within the market.

The second shift of electric guitars spanned from around 1963 to 1970, as British players and American copy-cats chimed in a new generation of exciting and expansive sounds. Juxtaposed to the muted, low end plucks found on early pop and rockabilly records, the era of the 1960’s heralded in a new emphasis on bright, trebly guitar tones. The epitome of this generation of rock music was without a doubt the German-made Rickenbacker guitar models, are famous for the sparkling, jangly sounds that would become synonymous with the music of 1960’s culture. In fact, much like the Jazzmaster, the Rickenbacker Capri series was unveiled in 1958, and was also initially met with confusion in the commercial market. However, unlike the Fender product, the Rickenbacker models would gain widespread appeal at a much quicker pace, as the company began branding itself as the “Beatle-backer” because of John Lennon and George Harrison’s extensive use of their guitars, especially during the fab-four’s formative years. In addition to rock and roll music, this brand was also responsible for ushering in folk music into popular culture, which used its sparkling tone to refresh their classical songwriter arrangements. In this period, the Jazzmaster would see a brief stint in popularity, due to its role in the short-lived surf music craze, but this wave of success was only temporary (Wolk). Once again, the sound was deemed too harsh to have a place in pop music, but the first signs of a significant alternative music movement was beginning to take formation.

But before the Jazzmaster would eventually be adopted amongst mainstream culture, it was the Les Paul electric guitar model that would be the voice of early 70’s guitar players. What little footing the Jazzmaster had gained in the 1960’s was inevitably lost because of a new emphasis on a “fat” guitar tone with longer sustain. The Les Paul was introduced by Gibson in 1952, and once again rose to universal acclaim despite a long period of lukewarm receptions. The success of the instrument is due largely to the sound of its duel humbucker pickups, responsible for creating the wide and powerful guitar tones that would be adopted by musicians such as Peter Frampton, Mick Ronson, and Jimmy Page. As a result, the “retro” look and sound of the Fender Jazzmaster was once again scoffed at by most musicians of this era, and production of the instrument ceased around 1976.

While two decades worth of commercial failure typically marks the inadequacy of a product, in hindsight, the Jazzmaster’s long incubation period was essential to fulfilling its fateful role within underground rock culture. As production began to wind down, hundreds of Jazzmasters began to appear along the walls of pawnshops and discount music stores all throughout the world. However, this also meant that new, high-end electric guitars could be purchased at low prices, thus opening up the door for many musicians who may have been unable to purchase such an instrument otherwise. Just around the end of the Jazzmaster’s first production, cult heroes such as Tom Verlaine (of Television) and Elvis Costello began acquiring guitars from pawnshops, and used them in marking their unique images and sound. Notably, Costello used his Jazzmaster as a centerpiece of his 1977 debut “My Aim is True”, including on the front and back cover art. The guitar, which he claims he “never knew even existed” until his bargain-bin discovery, became crucial to creating the sharp, “spy movie” pluck on his early hits such as “Watching the Detectives” and “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea”. Much like the archtops, Rickenbackers, and Les Paul models, the previously ignored Fender instrument would finally begin to build a relationship with an emerging generation of musicians.

By the 1980’s the Jazzmaster had become a cult phenomenon, playing a major part in the sound of the developing “art rock” and American “indie rock” scenes. In particular, members of Sonic Youth formed a deep connection with the guitar model, as the hyper-resonant qualities that were deemed inappropriate for previous generations were now perfectly suited for the discordant alternative movement. Because they were so easily replaced, Sonic Youth hoarded dozens of these pawnshop treasures: their inexpensive price tag created the opportunity to bands to conduct extensive experimentations, including unorthodox modifications and new techniques such as bashing them with drum sticks, or recording the destruction of the instrument. Just a few years later, the guitar would become a staple in the arsenal of timeless pop bands such as The Cure and The Smiths. Much like the Lava Lamps of Robert’s essay, this object may have been invented by one generation, but it was destined to become synonymous with another.

What made (and still makes) the Jazzmaster truly stand apart is that the combination of its history, versatility, and flaws have crafted it into one of the few object that provides the player with total control, producing an entirely new range of potential expression. The greatest testament to this statement comes from the work of Kevin Shields, guitar player for the Irish rock group My Bloody Valentine. Between the 1988 and 1991, Shields transcended musical charts, and created entirely new genres of music by taking the style of his peers and adding onto it with open tunings and using the tremolo arm to excessively manipulate pitch. The result was a whirling and warped sound known as “Glide guitar”, which creates dense, highly texturized soundscapes. According to Shields, when being played at extreme volumes, Glide guitar can reportedly influence brainwaves, and puts the listener in a trance-like state(BBC FOUR).

Shields claims to owe his success entirely to the “constant feeling of expression” provided by the Fender Jazzmaster, and he’s not wrong for doing so. Once again returning to its anatomy, there are several key features responsible for crafting this otherworldly sound. Firstly, the combination of the free-floating bridge with the natural imperfections of its wooden body results in an unusually high amount of string resonance along the object’s neck. The overtones created by this resonance have a sound akin to eastern instruments such as a sitar or a tanpura. The sound is incredibly organic, as the vibrations create a natural motion which wanes and waxes, even when droning on a single note. When the motion of the resonant strings is met with a bending tremolo arm, the resulting sound waves are highly texturized and possess a circadian kind of rhythm that is not easily replicated otherwise. As stated previously, all guitars create vibrations, but the characteristics of the Jazzmaster take these energy waves, and manipulate them with massive swells and oscillating tonality to a dizzying, psychedelic effect.

Despite its unparalleled features, the Jazzmaster spent much of its life being misunderstood and dismissed by the company and the culture that reared it. But in this period, stuffed among the pawnshop clutter, the guitar would take on a second life, and evolve into a symbol for change and musical innovation. As if by fate, the Fender model became a physical representation of the repudiation facing the underground rockers who wielded them.By the 21st century, the Jazzmaster made a triumphant return to the market, and has remained there to this day. In his book “Loveless”, author Mike McGonigal shares that he, among others, see glide guitar style is “the pinnacle of guitar music”, and yet to be surpassed (McGonigal). While it may be unclear how time and technology will alter the musical climate, it appears that an object once written off by its culture may also be the one to have the last laugh.

A fitting accomplishment for Fender’s greatest problem child.


“Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster & Jaguar: The Test.” Audiofanzine. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2014.”

“McGonigal, Mike. Loveless. New York: Continuum, 2007. Print.”

“Prown, Jules David., Kenneth Haltman, and Jennifer L. Roberts. American Artifacts: Essays in Material Culture. East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 2000. Print.”

“Shine, James W., Jr. “The Intricacies of the Fender Jazzmaster.” N.p., 3 Jan. 2005. Web. 07 Oct. 2014.”

“The Joy of the Guitar Riff. Perf. Kevin Shields. BBC, 2014. BBC Four. Web. 07 Oct. 2014.”

“Wolk, Douglas. “The Fender Jazzmaster’s Story, From the Fireballs to Lee Ranaldo.”

Blog Post #10

When looking for ways to discuss what expository writing really “is”, I made a search for a quick, and memorable explanation, to use as a springboard for my post. What a found was this dorky, internet gem:

Just as Mr. Heath’s song suggests, exposition is a form of discourse used to explain and provide the reader with information on a certain topic of interest. Unlike a persuasive essay, works of exposition have an entirely different set of goals, as well as ways an author might go about achieving them. Instead of using the paper as a means to support or defend claim, an expository essay should focus on using information to discuss central idea. For example, if the topic of the essay were the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the work should explain to the reader specifics such as why this is happening, and who is involved, but should be composed in a way that steers clear of personal biases or taking to any one side.

Additionally, the author is required to consider the audience to which he/she is writing, and to adjust the work accordingly. It is important to consider how much or how little in depth the information should go, as a means of helping the reader take away as information on the topic as possible. For example, if the work is aimed at informing drummers on how to tighten drum heads, including something such as the history of percussive instruments may weaken the exposition because the author is most likely already aware, or that information is a distraction from the central idea. Conversely, if detailing the history of percussive instruments, the author must be careful not to go too in depth with technical info, as may also be inappropriate for the audience at hand. Even Mr. Heath’s jingle about expository write seems to implement these concepts. Because he is aware that his audience is most likely un-informed on the subject, any dense information on the topic is eliminated, and the focus is instead to create a simple, absorbable work that explains the subject as concisely as possible.

The more specific approach required of an expository writer may be more difficult to construct, but the medium also provides the author with freedom to express ideas in a more creative fashion. One of the hallmarks of this style is that the author is allowed to include details from their own life in addition to information found in traditional research. This is a major contrast to the typical, persuasive essays found in academia, which stress a removal of any personal experiences in a piece of writing. Once again, this is because a successful argumentative essay requires strong, peer-reviewed sources, whilst exposition’s purpose is to provide the reader with as much rich, useful information on the topic as possible. Writing through exposition can remove the stifling boundaries within typical essays, and encourages creativity and thought in addition to facts. This is why expository writers such as Prown are allowed to indulge on more abstract topics and can even cite their own former works. These style writers them to use their own observations as evidence. If working under a persuasive guidelines, how might one possibly prove a comparison of a teapot to a human breast, if they are not allowed to reference their own observations and senses? As a result, it’s rather clear to see how material culture studies have been shaped by the practice of expository writing. The freedom of the genre creates the opportunity to hypothesize and create evidence for innovative patterns of thought and rhetoric.

Analysis of a Fender Jazzmaster

The object consists of two main pieces of wood, Alder and Maple respectively, which are bolted together horizontally. The wider of the two pieces, the “body”, is mostly coated with a polyester finish, of a light, pastel-blue hue. Conversely, the “neck” of the object is approximately 25.5” and has the shape of the letter “C”. The wood of the rounded back is un-painted; the front is covered with a flat piece of rosewood that has a radius of 9.5”. Scaling down the neck are several small pegs made of ivory, creating a flowing line of dots. Beyond the polyester coating, the back of the guitar remains mostly plain, save for a number of buckle scratches.

At the tip of the neck, there is a nut approximately 1.650”, which is connected to a somewhat larger curved head at the top. On the right side, the word “Fender” can be found in bold yellow type, with “vintage modified jazzmaster” etched in black toward the bottom. On the left side of the neck there are six white pegs, which have ascending gauges of steel strings wrapped around them. The 6 strings extend past the neck of the object, and are connected slightly before the tail end of the guitar by a thin piece of chrome, which is drilled into the wood. The high tension applied on each end of each string cause them to be tightly wound and elevated slightly above the flat base of the neck. The back of the neck contains a unique model number, reading “IC513168752”, as well as a small “made in Indonesia” etched near the top of the neck.

The object’s body has a unique shape, two horns are adjacent to where the neck is connected, there are parallel dips near the middle, and the bottom end is wider and more rounded. At the end of the largest horn and at the bottom of the body, there are identical metal pegs, in a reverse pyramid shape. Much of the bottom half of the front of the body is covered a thin layer with white plastic that contours to the object’s shape. Within the confines of this white plastic space, there are several other various shapes of plastic, as well as a number of metal screws that attach it firmly to the wood. The object has 2 large, white knobs that read “volume” and “tone”, as well as two tiny, moveable black wheels and one black switch towards the top end, near the most prominent horn. Near the second horn, there is another switch, this one extending about half an inch from the body, with a small bulb of white plastic at the top.

Horizontally intersecting the strings along the middle of the body are two 3” white plastic pieces, which are in a soap bar shape and bulge slightly outward. Along these two bars are 6 metallic dots, corresponding with each string. When a string is vibrated, the frequency of this energy is “picked up” by these small electromagnetic dots, and can be transmitted to anything that can amplify said frequencies. This energy is transmitted through complex wiring within the guitar’s body, which are connected to the various switches and knobs as well.

The strings on the object are perched up and held in place by a small chrome saddle. Towards the bottom of the guitar, there is a small hole around ¼ of an inch in circumference. At the bottom of the neck, there is a thin, metallic “arm” that in inserted into a small hole near the tailpiece and the saddle. Much like an actual joint, when pressure is applied, the saddle bends slightly as well. The oscillations in tension allow the strings to make a smeared kind of noise, which coincides of the bending of the tremolo “arm”.

The object can also be read as a physical embodiment of characteristics humans are attracted to or are universally connected with. The object’s specifications contain several references to human anatomy, including “body”, “head”, “neck”, and “arms”. Its curvy, contoured shape, comparably similar to that of a buxom woman, influences the desirability factor of this object. Likewise the polyester finish makes the object look similar to candy. On the neck of the object, several slivers of metal are melded into the wood. When scanning from the top to the bottom of the neck, it’s clear to see that these 21 frets are inching closer with each note. The pattern of converging frets is comparable to that of a classic diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum. As the pitch increases, the energy of the vibrations becomes faster as well.

The History and Influence of the Fender Jazzmaster

When creating my timeline, I quickly realized that my greatest challenge with this project would be how to go about detailing the history of Jazzmaster guitars in a way that would properly convey the deep connections that players have with these objects. The control, the connections, the feeling of metaphysical extension, all of these sensations felt understandable to me, but I knew my discussion could quickly be confused as mere idolatry if clear developments of sound, style, and culture were not included into the conversation. In order to understand why the way the jazzmaster “breaks the rules” of traditional playing and sound, the reader must first understand said what rules/sounds the instruments deviated from in the first place. As a result, the first half of my posts focus on the steady evolution from lutes (and other stringed instruments) to the familiar look and sound of the electric and classical guitars we use today. Using audio, video, and images greatly assisted in this process, as so much about these guitars cannot be described and understood, they can only be witnessed. Once the groundwork was laid out, my focused shifted onto the guitar itself: the story of the model’s rejection and triumphant return is almost baffling, and remains a testament for how this guitar, quite unlike any other, possesses so much potential for the player to develop a rather unique relationship with it. Ironically, much like the young 80’s rockers who wielded them, early jazzmasters were initially ignored, and only became noticed by the public once they became a symbol for disharmony and raucous. Within a few short decades, an instrument which may have easily been lost to time, instead became a symbol for a booming independent rock movement, and was even popular enough to eventually be reproduced.

Blog Post #7: Beauty & Material Culture as an Evolutionary Concept


Throughout this semester, we’ve elaborated on how object analysis provides a window into the culture that produced it. Lava Lamps, teapots, libraries, all objects who’s metaphysical properties indicate social or cultural values, but as our studies have gone on, I’ve slowly begun to wonder: how far back do these connections go? Are there objects so broadly influential that they extend past societal or cultural ties, and are instead just humanistic? In his TED discussion, Denis Dutton states that objects of beauty fit this mold, as their evolution can be traced back throughout the course of cross-cultural human history.

On the surface, a “beautiful” thing is not easily defined. It’s typically stated that, because of it’s subjective nature, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”… or better yet, that objects we see as beautiful are due in some part to our cultural conditioning. “Paintings, movies, music, are all beautiful because cultures shape uniformity for preference of aesthetic taste”, yet beyond this there are certain objects that people worldwide have a magnetic attraction to.

I feel that this source would provide a unique concept for a class discussion as it not only aligns with previous readings, but expands on them in such a way that it provokes a great deal of thought about the creation and development of our relationship with objects. Dutton’s tie in of beautify creating desire is rather parallel with our previous discussion of how “cute” things: just as a ceramic cat evokes the same physical response as seeing a baby’s face, Dutton suggests that our concept of beauty is an evolutionary response “to encourage us toward making the most adaptive decisions for survival and reproduction”. The result is that these objects have a universal appeal, even to people who have never encountered them before.


For example, Dutton notes that around the world, we are obsessed with photos and replication of a very particular landscape: “open spaces of low grasses interspersed with copses of trees…. water directly in view…indications of animal or bird life… a path or a road, perhaps a riverbank or a shoreline, that extends into the distance.” Amazingly, this perfectly describes the savanna environments were our ancestors evolved and flourished. I won’t spoil the entire discussion, but he makes some truly astounding connections between art and evolution that I highly recommend everyone to watch.

We’ve seen that “cuteness” influences parental instincts, disgust is a defense mechanism, and beauty/desire is for survival and reproduction. So naturally, this begs the question: What other aesthetics produce psycho/physiological responses, and how has evolution shaped them as well?

Not Quite Star Wars (yet)


Blame it on an over-active imagination (or too many cartoons as a kid), but I’ve always had a mild obsession with the potential of artificial intelligence. Much like Carla Diana, I spent much of my childhood fantasizing about the chance to interact with futuristic robot friends that walked, talked, functioned in my absence, and most importantly, comprehended what I told them and had valuable things to say in return. However, unlike the C3PO-esque droids of my imagination, I instead found myself surrounded by robots that were boasted as being “smart”, but yet could usually only fulfill a specific, singular function. R.O.B., Poochie, RoboReptile… these were all excellent toys, but nothing in comparison to the idealistic robots and androids that existed in my head.

Much like myself, Diana’s woes in “Dreams of Intelligent Robot Friends” stems from the fact that despite the face, blinking lights, and high tech properties, the limits to the quality and quantity of interactions one may have with objects like Karotz still leaves much to be desired. In retrospect, it seems that the defining factors that these toys “lack” are the ability to emulate human interactions, specifically a two-way channel of information exchanging. But where does this intrinsic value for human-like qualities lie? What is it that we define current “intelligent objects” by, and to what extent do current standards apply to the “ideal” concept of these robots?

Focusing on these questions made me consider one of the most relevant “smart” objects in recent history: Siri. Apple’s personal assistant,is often regarded as a modern cultural icon, often colloquially referred to as a “she” in everyday conversations.( In regards to Diana’s article, I would argue that defining characteristic of interpersonal connections with “smart objects” is their proficiency for expressing information such in a way that can be interpreted as having a “personality”. Specifically, Diana’s suggestion of “With the right predisposition, the appropriate context for a social exchange, and enough key info to grab onto, you and a stranger can hit it off right away”, perfectly explains why interactions with this technology can produce a sense of connection on personal, and even emotional levels. Simply put, we value Siri over something like Karotz because “her” ability to decipher interactions and potentially respond with both results and adequate emotional cognition quite literally makes us feel more “understood”.


To elaborate further, I’d like to cite a very personal, very nerdy example: Shortly after my first iPhone purchase, I jokingly asked, “Siri, where is the rebel base?” and was responded with a clunky robotic voice saying “Dantooine…They’re on Dantooine”. I was floored. I literally screamed “I love this fucking phone!” out loud. And while catching a point of reference is an admittedly shallow reason to love something, I think this scenario purely encapsulates how and why artificial intelligence can be so personally fulfilling. It stems the same strange psychology that causes Roombas to make cleaning more enjoyable, or when we can feel oddly remorseful that siri is “offended” by our profanity. They’re essentially human interactions, just emulated differently.

It’s indisputable that humans share many emotional ties with their objects, and though we are far from objects that act as sentient beings, perhaps even just the opportunity for more, emotionally stimulating interactions with them, can be incredibly rewarding in itself.

'Tell me more about your programmer.'

Analog Rebellion: How Vacuum Tubes Helped to Redefine the Concept of “Old”


Yes, it’s true, the Cathode Ray Tube is a dead … Kind of.

Despite how much we may want to tag human characteristics on to our objects, the lifecycle of technologies are a rather fickle thing. In modern consumer culture, a “dead” technology is merely one that’s intrinsic values are considered obsolete when compared to new models. In this case of the CRT, its older, bulky model has been replaced by new sets that boast slimmer, wall-mounted screens filled with liquid crystals and advanced features. So yes, technically the life of the tube TV is over. However, its afterlife has brought us not only a newfound sense of its irreplaceable characteristics, but sets an example for why the lifetime of objects will extend much further out than we may typically expect.

Toward the latter half of his article Lepawsky makes a brief introduction of the afterlife of CRT televisions. He paints a picture of the CRT being a valuable but deadly resource: parts being stripped for new technologies, toxic materials affecting humans, foreign countries buying them in droves because of their cheap prices, etc. In the author’s mind, the afterlife of the CRT is literally a technological poltergeist, as he discusses the millions of discarded televisions that harbor the evolution of deadly bacteria with their hazardous components. While Lepawsky certainly may have a point, I find his article to be rather one-sided, as he has clearly overlooked a major aspect of the CRT’s lifecycle: it’s reincarnation.

While it’s easy to write off the Cathode Ray Tube as “dead” because of obsolete technological specs and lowered economic value, the truth is that those who are aware of the CRT’s natural advantages hold it in high regard. In fact, vacuum tube technology as a whole has recently come back into popularity as many find a connection to its warmer, analogue qualities. In my mind, this coincides directly with the resurgence of vinyl records, film cameras, and countless other devices that are technically inferior. While “birth”, “life”, and “death” are relatively self-explanatory, the afterlife of an object stems from individuals having the hindsight to distinguish the unique qualities of each product, as opposed to the “ old=bad, new=good” mindset that is pushed in consumer culture. For example, CRTs are highly valued in gaming culture: tube televisions are much more responsive, have “deeper, more vibrant color”, and can easily adjust to a variety of resolutions. The introduction of the LCD television may have “killed” CRTs in terms of mass market value, but it cannot undermine its legacy, nor compete with the components that make it unique.

It’s very easy to merely state facts about the hidden value and advantages to older objects, so I would like to close by speaking from my own personal experience:
A few weeks ago, when shopping for a new guitar amp, I made a conscious decision to purchase an older model with vacuum tubes over one with digital technology. Looking at it from an economic standpoint, this is a completely illogical purchase: the digital amp is larger, less expensive, has higher wattage, and is significantly easier to repair/replace. But despite these facts, I (among millions of other guitar players) still chose the older technology, as there is something much more radiant and life like about it.  We’ve spoken ad-nauseam about how we identify objects as extensions of ourselves, perhaps the value we see in old objects stems from the fact that they are “flawed”, and in that sense, more human.

* “14 Gaming Myths Exposed” at

The science of cuteness

When first analyzing Marovich’s article, I found her introduction to the idea of “cuteness” to be interesting, but oddly vague. But there was one aspect of it that stuck out rather clearly: the beckoning cat, and its “magical” properties to draw people in and create good fortune. But what was this magic? How do I find its origin? To help in my comprehension of the topic, I began by doing a Google image search of just the word “cute” to see if I could find any patterns. Lo-and-behold, there was in fact a pattern, things that I have observed my entire life, yet never managed to connect the dots to: puppies at play, kittens in tea cups, babies looking perfectly innocent with wide eyed stares, but it obviously has to go deeper than that; There’s got to be more to this that I’m missing.

Because I found Marovich’s article to be rather surface level, I instead chose to take a look into her sources, which revealed a great deal of factual information that explains our powerful relationships with all things categorized as “cute”. Hiroshi Nittono’s article “The Power of Kawaii” summed up the phenomenon as so: “Cute objects are assumed to be characterized by baby schema. This is a set of features that are commonly seen in young animals: a large head relative to the body size, a high and protruding forehead, large eyes, and so forth.” He goes on to indicate that this baby schema creates a stimulus, which triggers many of our brain’s receptors, particularly those associated with attentiveness, motivation and care giving. The high level of rewarding stimuli we receive just from the observation of these objects is a compelling explanation of our “obsession” with them.

To drive this point home further,  Cara Santa Maria of the Huffington post breaks down the origins of this “power”. Evolutionary developments, pertaining to both human beings and other living creatures, are arguably the sole reason why “cute” properties are so valued our minds. As stated previously, we find certain animals (particularly young ones) to be cute because their physical characteristics stimulate our brains in the same way that human babies do. But why do we find these particular features so attractive? One likely answer may be that over time, a mutation in the genes of mothers predisposed them to be more protective and nurturing of the offspring that possessed what we now refer to as “cute” features. As a result, these children (who also were likely to possess the same genetic bias themselves) were much more likely to survive and reproduce, which over millions of years, slowly adapted our inherent reaction towards animals and objects with the same aesthetics. For example, a young, docile appearance can explain why we bred and domesticated certain types of animals, as opposed to others. Additionally, these patterns explain why we describe these qualities magnetic and “magical”. In all actuality, the talismanic properties of the beckoning cat are merely a façade: they lure us in because we are genetically predisposed to see them as such, and the “good fortune” they bring stems from the fact that their appearance naturally causes us to feel more motivated and rewarded.

So we have an understanding of the science of cuteness, but this still leaves the question of why exactly do humans often treat these living, breathing creatures with the same level of possession and personal association that they would any other object? To find the answer, I returned to Belk’s essay “Possessions & the extended self”. Perhaps, most obviously, there is the notion that we see these creatures as objects because a person may see himself or herself as the amalgamation of everything they have or possess. Spouses, Children, Slaves are all examples of ways in which man has found a sense of possession towards those in his own species, so it seems only natural that similar attitudes be held over other living creatures. This becomes more elaborate as Belk suggests that we see our pets at extensions of ourselves, both in terms of personality and viewing treatment of a pet as a reflection of the opinion of the self. As the creation of “cute” objects became more and more apparent, it would seem only natural that they would be crafted to allow us to input ourselves into them as well. This can explain why some of the most famous faces in popular culture (Hello Kitty,  Pikachu, Snoopy, etc.) are all examples of characters in that possess cute qualities, but yet are seemingly voiceless. This internal vacancy allows us to project ourselves into the character, adding in yet another layer to the complex science of cuteness.