Category Archives: Blog Project Prompts

Blog Post 7: Rethinking Higher Education

I chose to develop my discussion on a fascinating TED talk: “Shai Reshef: An ultra-low-cost college degree.” Since my timeline focuses not only on the history of college per se, but also on the struggles that college imposes on students, this video was particularly interesting as it stresses the inaccessibility of higher education nowadays.

There is a brief introduction for the TED talk: “At the online University of the People, anyone with a high school diploma can take classes toward a degree in business administration or computer science — without standard tuition fees (though exams cost money). Founder Shai Reshef hopes that higher education is changing ‘from being a privilege for the few to a basic right, affordable and accessible for all’.” The quote from Reshef’s speech is very important as it suggests his intention to revolutionize the modern system of higher education and help disadvantaged students realize their dreams. For this reasons, Reshef has been named the “Ultimate Game Changer in education” by the Huffington Post and had made an appearance in the list of the 50 people who will change the world in WIRED.

According to what Reshef says in the video, he created a virtual, tuition-free institution offering to help people all over the world, a model that has recently been accredited by DETC. He begins his speech by giving the examples of three young people who strongly wanted to pursue an academic career after graduating from high-school but were unable to enroll in college because of financial reasons. These are stories of creative individuals whose intelligence was denied by the classic academic model, but could be expended by his new online program. Reshef pinpoints three reasons for which the young generation is denied an education: financial reasons (college becomes a privilege instead of being of a natural right), cultural reasons (in some countries women are not allowed to go to college), and capacity (there are not enough seats or places to accommodate everybody). In contrast, being a virtual college, the University of the People is affordable and does not pose a problem in terms of capacity. Students don’t need to buy textbooks because the professors put their materials online, and the professors themselves are volunteers who don’t want a salary. “If the Internet has made us a global village, this model can develop its future leadership,” says Reshef towards the end of the video.

Certainly, it is beautiful that the University of the People opens its doors to everybody, no matter where they live or what their social position is. It is also brilliant that Reshef identifies what is wrong in modern education and uses the power of the Internet to change it. However, there are some issues raised by the academic model he introduces that are not fully examined. For instance, there are only two possible fields of study: business administration or computer science. It is true that these are currently the main areas of interest in college education as they give the possibility to find a job in the world market more easily than other fields. However, this is something that may be considered a limitation since there are disadvantaged students who are certainly interested in other areas of study as well. Another limitation is probably due to the virtual character of the program: Reshef highlights the importance of “peer to peer learning,” which means that students are encouraged to interact and study together online. The problem is that online. Having a conversation online is different from having a conversation in person and influences the quality of the discourse. This is especially true if the students are from different countries and have different time zones. Also, the University of the People does not offer a full college life: libraries, social events, trips, workshops, etc., are not available through the digital system. Finally, women who are denied an education because of their gender would not have easy access to a virtual college, since they do not have access to an actual college in the first place.

Now, it’s your turn. What do you think of the Universtiy of the People? Is it an useful and effective institution worldwide? Is this virtual college a step forward into a brighter future? Do you believe that virtual colleges are better than actual colleges? Is Shai Reshef a great thinker, even a genius? Or is Shai Reshef’s vision a little too simplistic?


Culture Of Baby Wearing Blog #7

Lakisha Rose
Blog #7
For several weeks I have been studying the culture of baby wearing. I have read many articles, from different times in history about this particular object. Personally, when I had my first child I’ve never used one, I had one because it was a gift at my baby shower. However, I did what was convenient for me at that time and didn’t use it. What I’ve learned is that parents do what best fits their lifestyle. At the time when I had my first child, I was young and didn’t have the mother child connection. I was still in school and I was young and enjoyed hang out with my friend, so a stroller worked better for me.
While study the history of baby wearing objects, and took pictures. I noticed woman mainly in the early 1900 utilized these carriers for different reasons. Baby wearing wasn’t something special like it is in western cultures, woman worked hard and it was just what they did to cope. Mothers worked hard and didn’t have time to entertain babies. It was used to make life easier, each country in the world use a different type of baby carrier to fit their needs. For example, it depended on the climate, type of work they did. In addition, to the culture and traditional wearing position.
However, I learned that this object help build a connection to with mother. The reason is obvious; mothers are carrying babies 90% of the day. Throughout the semester we have been learning about the relationship between object and writing, objects and people. Also the way object make us feel. We also read about the history of old things. This is why I can appreciate the culture behind baby wearing. Why do you think certain cultures wear different types of baby wearing? For example, Mexican people use the Rebozo, which is a square of woven cloth tied over one shoulder with baby usually on the back

Blog #7: Reading Things

For the first six blog prompts, I have taken charge of selecting the readings and focus of discussion. I’ve asked you to blog about the relationship between objects and writing, the sources and nature of cuteness, the uncanny lure of dead things, the histories we read in old things, how we sort tools from weapons, and what we might learn from thinking about smart things.

Now it’s your turn.


Photo of two birds on a high wire, one of them flying in with an insect in its beak for the other to eat.
Image credit: “It’s your turn” by coniferconifer on Flickr.

Posting: Groups 1 and 2

Commenting: Groups 1 and 2

Continue reading Blog #7: Reading Things

Blog Post #6: A Beautiful Mind?

These past two blog prompts, Sharp Things and Smart Things, juxtaposed with the overlying intention to connect the relationship between humans and objects have me deeply contemplating the process of human thought. Do we indeed control our own thoughts or do history, culture, education, and the media program our thoughts? In hopes to adequately express my reasoning (or questioning), I must first expose my synopsis of the two blog prompts essays in correlation to the weekly readings. I will try to link them all with a possible enlightening yet probably radical view, hence displaying my own perplexing thought. Personal note: My goal is to convey my perplexed train of thought but because of my indifference to the complex subject, I fear that I may do so erroneously.

John Cline intriguingly lures his audience to associate two diverse objects, the machete and iPhone, as both a tool and a weapon in his essay, “What Is a Machete, Anyway?” He cleverly frames the essay around the comparison of the machete in attempt to disguise the dangerous manipulation a smartphone imposes. Despite the humor and very little reference to the iPhone, Cline leaves his audience critically thinking about hazardous objects that we previously only viewed as a useful device to stay current with phone numbers, email, text, social media, etc.

” Saws Can Sing For Us” by Jacob Chisenhall


When reading the essay, one’s mind drifts to other sharp things initially made as an aiding tool that could also be used to hurt or kill someone. The picture above is of handsaws, which are commonly used for cutting, but in this case, they are used for creating music. Similar to Cline’s example of the machete, handsaws also have been portrayed and used as a weapon yet the above picture establishes a harmless and even an enjoyable use for a “dangerous” tool.

In contrast to Cline’s inference, Carla Diana imposes a more friendly perception to technology in her essay, “The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends.” She frames her essay around the idea of our brains cultivating relationships with smart objects and thus presenting a tangible awareness of how humans and objects are indeed connected. Although Diana also presents a dichotomy between objects and humans by divulging her frustrations about an object’s programming, she indicates how we quickly pardon our frustrations in order to continue our people-object relationship by giving it living characteristic, such as “quirky.”

What truly makes an inanimate object dangerous? We have established that objects themselves are not dangerous until they are in the hands of a human. For example, a machete lying on a table is simply that: machete lying on a table. Only in the presence of a living creature is when it becomes dangerous, whether it is intentional (by picking it up and slashing at another being) or unintentional (by bumping against the table and causing the machete to fall, which could possibly severe a foot on the way down to the floor).

However, deep cogitation is provoked to contemplate potential digital weapons, such as the iPhone. Is this a gadget containing necessary tools to prevail in society or are we manipulated into thinking so? Can the human mind be programmed? If so, this idea implies that the iPhone is more than just a tool created by a beautiful mind but it has an underlying purpose: control.

Advances in technology are justified by the progress made in the medical field yet conspiracy theorists question the true intentions by those who hold power and influence over the economy. These people of power are referred to in this blog post as “tycoons” and “the elite” because these oligarchs possess most of the economy’s wealth and consequently have the power to influence and manipulate. However, even before revolution of electronic and digital technology, an accepted theory on how individuals are first molded lies within the education system.

Programming the Mind through Education

Formal education through schools, colleges and universities continues the systematic indoctrination where the ‘correct’ views and interpretations of science, history, and society result in exam passes and the ability to ‘get on’ in life.

— Ivan Fraser and Mark Beeston, The Brotherhood and the Manipulation of Society

In order to succeed in moving forward and become “productive members of society,” we must first pass all the tests. These tests are continuously evaluated and used as a measurement in order to progress onto the next level. Additionally, these tests are organized from a general knowledge every single person should know before moving forward, regardless of culture, language, ability (or disability), experience, etc.

This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited.

— Carl Jung, The Concept of the Collective Unconscious

Most importantly, only select individuals compose these tests; therefore, they reflect a narrowed view and interpretation of subjects and societal norms. In other words, we learn from others (i.e. teachers, professors, administration, experts) but are we actually formulating our own subjective thoughts or are we merely conceptualizing that we control our thoughts but simply adapting to what society wants us to? What does it truly mean to be knowledgeable, well informed, or even an expert when we are subjugated to a statistical number used to devise an assessment in which calculates all human thought the same exact way? Therefore, I ask, is it implausible to be deemed an individual with distinct, unique thoughts when we are ultimately just programmed by our education?

Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do no organize the people—they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.

— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Politicians, corporate executives, bankers, and media tycoons are successful in obtaining a position of influence in society whereby people are “subordinate to the prime motivation of profit.” These tycoons are oppressors and have a primary “interest in maintaining the status quo at all costs, ” which in turn “exert an irrepressible influence over every aspect of our lives, our thoughts and opinions.” In hopes to “live long and prosper,” we blindly accept this oppression since we have been programmed and manipulated through education, mass media, employment, religion, healthcare, etc.  And ironically, we, the consumers and our need for things (Professor C), are the tool/object to which tycoons use to drive America’s capitalistic society.

Programming through Mass Media

For obvious reasons, this idea almost speaks for itself. As a result of its vast reach, media is the most manipulating system whereby influences the conscious and subconscious mind. Mass media, which includes television, movies, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, records, video games and the Internet, is a powerful force in manipulating “the organized habits and opinions of the masses.” Ultimately, it is an unseen mechanism to cultivate minds into “a single and cohesive world view, engendering a ‘standardization of human thought.’”

In less than 20 years, media ownership has dwindled down from 50 companies to a mere 5, which includes AOL Time Warner, Viacom, Walt Disney, Vivendi Universal, and Sony.  This realization is disturbing because this means that the music we listen to, shows and movies we watch, the stories we read, games we play, and internet searches we perform are all fashioned from the viewpoint of only 5 companies…FIVE. These meager five companies are categorized as the “elite” because they own “all of the possible outlets” to reach the public. As aforementioned, the drive behind these elite (tycoons) is to influence and use people as objects in order to sell products.

The technique of psychotherapy, widely practiced and accepted as a means of curing psychological disorders, are also methods of controlling people. They can be used sustematically to influence attitudes and behavior. Systematic desensitization is a method used to dissolve anxiety so the patient (public) is not longer troubled by a specific fear…People adapt to frightening situations is they are exposed to them enough.

Steven Jacobson, Mind Control in the United States

The attempt to alter the public’s view or perception on a subject becomes not only easier but also more deliberate, allowing more access to tap into our “primal needs and instincts in order to generate an emotional and irrational response.” Overall, the elite’s desirable outcome is for mass conformity, acceptance, and accumulation of state-of-art entertainment, which is achieved through desensitization. Desensitization is a technique whereby the media elite softens the public on a specific topic for several years before introducing a sometimes-radical concept. The public then greets the concept “with general indifference and is passively accepted.”

Are we advancing towards the micro-chipped concept portrayed in the motion picture, In Time? According to Ivan Fraser and Mark Beeston’s research, the answer is, “yes” and that the consumer population has been gradually softened since the 1970s to willingly receive this technology. For example, pets are electronically tagged in case they are lost, requirement of ID’s are “as common as a handshake,” ‘pay at the pump’ systems at almost all gas stations, and bar-coded cards are an experimental way supermarkets and drug stores can track and tally consumer purchases.

Even more shocking is the 1994 tycoon-funded research for the Intel Corporation to investigate about possibilities for an under-the-skin microchip used for identification and track financial transactions. The cherry-on-top, however, is the existing development of a bar-coding system that contains three sets of six numbers to which can be “installed” painlessly and within one half of a second on the skin. This technology was developed by IBM and is currently used on cattle.

In conclusion, I pose one final question…which object should we fear the most, the obviously dangerous tool or the subliminal tool used for manipulating us into viewing the former as dangerous?


Blog Post #6: Smart Things

When I was very young, I read the Raggedy Ann (and Andy) stories by Johnny Gruelle over and over again. My grandmother made a Raggedy Ann doll for me. The doll was exactly my size, and one Halloween, I borrowed her dress to go trick-or-treating as Raggedy Ann. I was fascinated by the idea that my toys might walk and talk and live when I wasn’t around. Now, I am rediscovering the Raggedy Ann stories with my daughter, who loves them, too, and while I still find them charming, I also find them a little bit horrifying. Because I remember the vague guilt I would sometimes feel when, after days of forgetting she existed, I would discover my Raggedy Ann squashed (trapped) in the bottom of a container of toys, and in a fit of remorse, I would throw her tea parties and take her everywhere for a week or two before forgetting about her once again.

In her essay, “The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends,” Carla Diana seems to welcome the possibility of smart objects that could respond to and interact with us:

The tools for meaningful digital-physical integration are finally accessible, but it’s still a messy challenge to get them all to work together in a meaningful way. Dreaming about robots is a bit like dreaming about finding strangers who will understand you completely upon first meeting. 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, but without those things, the experience can be downright awful. Since we’ve got a lot more to understand when it comes to programming engagement and understanding, the robot of my dreams is unlikely to be commercially available any time soon, but with the right tools and data we can come pretty close.

I admit to being a technophile, like Diana. Robots, though, especially the kinds of robots she has helped to design, or the Kismet robot designed by MIT labs, evoke in me feelings of unease as well as fascination. As with the Raggedy Ann doll of my childhood, the potential “smart things” of our future raise for me the spectre of sentient objects, things that might resent us when we’re neglectful, things that might rebel if we treat them in ways they don’t like. Some scientists who work in artificial intelligence posit that things can be “smart”–that is capable of advanced human-like behavior–without being conscious or self-aware. If that’s the case, then arguably, we could have intelligent robots who aren’t bothered by their working conditions.

Yet, should feeling empathy with or responsibility toward things be dependent on a perception of those things as “intelligent” or “conscious”? For example, many of us go out of our way to avoid causing harm to animals, or plants, or even bodies of water or geologic resources. Why is it normal, even encouraged, to care for some objects but not others? How might our attitude to things like smart phones or robots be transformed if we could interact with them–and they could respond like–our pets or our friends? Would we be required to rethink the implicit ethics that guide our everyday interactions with things?

Some religions, such as the Japanese religion of shinto, posit a world in which inanimate objects are a manifestation of or are animated by living, spiritual forces. Environmentalists and animal rights activists often make compelling arguments that all living things have an equal right to existence, and that human needs and concerns must always be balanced against that right. To the extent we may develop smart objects that tend to blur the line between living beings and contrivances of inert matter, might we find ethical guidance about dealing with such smart things in religion or philosophy? Or should that guidance come from somewhere else? Or, maybe, are all of these discursive systems or intellectual disciplines potentially relevant?

Carefully read Diana’s essay, and use that piece and some of the resources linked in this prompt as a starting point for some quick research. Combine a web search with a search of the library’s eJournals, looking for resources that might help us understand the ethical systems that govern human/object interactions. Craft a post that summarizes the results of your research and provides links or citations to useful resources.

Posting: Group 2

Commenting: Group 1

Category: Smart Things

In your Blog #6 post, you should do more than offer a list of source summaries. Rather, you should frame the summary of your research, as a cohesive response to a research question that is posed or suggested by this prompt. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

Feature Image: “Forgotten 80/365” by Marcy Leigh on Flickr.

Blog 5: What contemporary objects can be both a tool and a weapon?

With the help of technology, each and every contemporary object can be both a tool and a weapon. Distinguishing between a tool and a weapon, simply put, is a matter of function and intent. In my opinion, this is an interesting topic because of the gray area that exists between the two. John Cline uses the example of the iphone, which seems to be, these days, the symbol of technology in the 21st century as an example of an object that may be used as weapon. While I agree with Cline, I must go a step further: Every contemporary object can be both a tool and a weapon.

In elementary school, my classmates and I were rather fond of rubber band balls. We would collect all the rubber band balls we could find and stretch them around each other until we possessed a bouncing ball. It was the perfect disguise for us. During school hours, we were innocent school children being creative, but after school… it was all out war. When the last bell of the day rang, and we were released to walk home, those rubber bands were unwound, stretched back as far as they could go, and released at the nearest ten-year-old boy we could find. Occasionally, if you thought you could recover your ball, you would just throw the whole thing at your friend’s head.

Did our teacher know that the simple tool she used to group pencils with was being used as weapons after school? If she did, she sure put on a good show after a parent found us out and notified her. Mrs. Hatch yelled at us for what felt like 30 minutes, and needless to say, we never received another rubber band.

What was the difference between the rubber band balls we made in class and the rubber bands we flung at each other? We changed the rubber bands function and intent. Any contemporary object can be used as weapon with the right amount of creativity. For instance, a book is a simple tool for learning, but let Clayton Kershaw throw it at you, and I guarantee the next time you see him with a book in his hand, you will perceive it as a weapon.

In Oculomotor Examination of the Weapon Focus Effect: Does a Gun Automatically Engage Visual Attention?, Heather D. Flowe, Lorraine Hope, and Anne P. Hillstrom explore the notion of a person being less likely remembered if they appear in a visual seen with a gun. They conclude: “An image of a gun did not engage attention to a larger extent than images of other types of objects (i.e., a pocket watch or tomato). The results suggest that context may be an important determinant of WFE. The extent to which an object is threatening may depend on the larger context in which it is presented.”


But, Why is this? In my opinion, when people see a gun, they perceive fear and the only thing they are worried about is safety. This isn’t the case with all contemporary tools. While many contemporary tools have the ability to be used as weapon, the tool actually being a weapon is a matter of one’s perception of its function and intent.




Blog Post 5: Harmless or Harmful?

An object can be many things: a tool, a weapon, a political instrument, the symbol of a culture, etc. Objects certainly have many faces, and these faces are easily interchangeable, as John Cline shows in his intriguing essay “What Is a Machete, Anyway?” For instance, a machete can quickly transform “from a boy’s plaything to an instrument of violence.” The act is so spontaneous that there is no conscious realization of this undergoing process, and the person who is responsible for it involuntarily gives character to an inanimate artifact. That is, things that look harmless have the ability to become deadly, and vice versa.

Instead of focusing my attention on objects that look dangerous but have a playful side, like the machete, I want to concentrate on those objects that seem innocuous but hide potentially lethal consequences for those who use them. What about watches, for instance? A watch seems inoffensive at first glance, but the so-called “radium girls” in the ‘20s think differently. During World War I, men went to fight on the front, and women went to work. At U.S. Radium Corp, a company in New Jersey, women painted watch dials with a material that was new at the time, radium, and in particular a radium paint powder that made watch numbers glow in the dark. Then, the women working at the factory began to get seriously ill, and  U.S. Radium Corp denied that the dial painter was harmful, claiming that radium was indeed beneficial to human health. This episode reminds me of Cline’s assertion about politics. He states that weapons like firearms, or even a machete, might lead to a possible insurrection, and for this reason state’s agents think to be the only ones entitled to use violence. This is clearly an abuse of power based on a faulty reasoning, as I believe that citizens have the right to defend themselves when necessary (only when necessary). In both cases, politicians and businessmen used objects to carry own their agenda. In the case of the “radium girls,” a substance considered innocuous to the body caused these girls to slowly deteriorate, loose their teeth, and even their strength to the point that they couldn’t even raise their hands. However, the corporation made the outrageous statement that radium “was helpful rather than injurious to the human system.” From innocent substance to silent poison.

In the same way,  more recently, the famous multinational company Samsung, based in Korea, caused 243 chip factory workers to get cancer due to the proximity of highly toxic chemicals. Samsung’s apologies did not sound sincere, however, as the corporation still refuses to connect the death of a 23-year-old and the sickening of other numerous workers to the chemicals used in the factories. “Former Samsung workers, their families and civil groups struggled for years to raise awareness about the cancer cases.” These people tried, and are still trying, to highlight the transformation of seemingly harmless chemicals into agents of death, a process taking place before our very eyes, sometimes fostered by the same authority that is supposed to protect us from dangerous objects.

Blog #5 Objects connect to histroy and experiences

The first thing that come to mind when I think about and object, is normally something that can be seen or touched. However, after googling the definition I found that objects had multiple definitions. An object can also be someone or something that makes you feel a specified emotion.  While thinking about this, I realize that most useful objects are the most dangerous. In the article “What Is a Machete”. John Cline implies that any object can oscillate between useful and harmful weapon. He made some valid interesting points pertaining to a machete; from explain the history of it. Beginning with why people used a machete in earlier years. He stated “The machete bear an unusual character. It’s possible to conceive of it as a weapon, yes, but it’s also very much a tool- not altogether different from, say a shovel”. Object, are perceived differently, at different times. For example, in earlier times people used machete often to work out on the farm or to cut things like sugar canes. A machete can also be used to defend and protect. For instance, I have a baseball bat in my trunk in an event that I must defend myself.

baseball bat


However, this object is also used for a sport. This is one of many reason why I truly believe object is what that owner want it to be or used for.  In contrast, another, example of how people are affected and not necessarily be caused by a blunt physical object, is the idea of Arab spring. Cellphones and shared internet information can have an affect on people that ultimately cause harm. Also, Chemotherapy is used for positive reason but can also be harmful.  However, I can understand why most object are perceived as harmful, Mainly in our.  Object like machete as long as I could remember has always been viewed that way.



One of many reason why I truly feel like objects are connected to people and their experience.


Weaponizing Technology

In John Cline’s article, “What Is a Machete Anyway?”, he questions the potential of technology (the example he uses of this being a smartphone) to be as politically and physically dangerous as a tool like the machete. I think he’s underestimating the range of technology out there.

He references the “Arab Spring” protests in his article as one prominent example of weaponizing technology: where people protested against their governments using the organization and international platforms social media lent them. Those protests left a lasting impact on the political landscape on the entire region one can see today. But Cline seems to think this way of using technology isn’t as long-lasting.

Popular culture disagrees. A trend that has picked up in the gaming world is the use of hacking as a form of combat. The exemplary game that made huge waves because of this was Watch_Dogs (here’s a trailer.) It’s a AAA (which means it’s a big production made by one of the big corporations; guaranteed to be a commercial success) lovechild of Grand Theft Auto and new-school spy films in which the biggest element of gameplay is the ability to manipulate your surroundings using your phone. Most missions rely on the use of the hacking feature to take down whoever you’re working against. In other words, weaponizing technology is something that we as a society are seeing more often.


A more concrete example of objects holding dual purposes as both great tools and weapons is this: a 3-D printer. 3-D printers have a lot of potential to help a lot of people. Through the work of brilliant individuals, you see how objects made from 3-D printers have helped cut cost dramatically for items people need and to act as a method of teaching the next generation.

And then someone created another kind of template to use.



In May of 2013, a group of people created the first fully realized 3-D printed gun. Which had its glitches, but people have been improving upon the original design for the past year. I personally remember the outrage and disgust around the Internet when the news was first released last year. Every commentator said something to the effect of either, “Why would these people corrupt this amazing technology meant for good?” or “It was only a matter of time before something like this happened.”

And I agreed with the latter. Technology grows as humans do; it takes on different functions and shapes and uses as a situation calls for it. Objects, technology in particular, are never inherently good or bad, but they can be painted by how people choose to use them. Just like the machete.

Damage can also be given in different ways. It can be a physical blow, with a machete or a 3-D printed gun, but it could also be information, as we saw in the “Arab Spring.” So I believe that while Cline’s overall analysis of the nature of symbolism in objects was well done, I think that he didn’t acknowledge that damage goes by a broader definition than it used to.

We may not be saying “down to the Apple” yet, but it could be sooner than he thinks.

Blog Post #5: Sharp Things

Why are the most useful objects so often also among the most dangerous? Some objects, such as knives, fire, or chemotherapy drugs have inherent properties that make them hazardous to our health. In other objects, though, the danger stems not from the object’s properties (it’s sharp, it’s hot, or it’s toxic) but from how it is used. For example, one might argue (and some do) that there is nothing inherently dangerous about a gun; guns only become dangerous through the operation of human agency, through intentional use of a gun to cause harm or mishandling that results in unintended injury. How do we tell the difference between a tool and weapon, between poison and panacea?

In his essay, “What Is a Machete, Anyway?,” John Cline implies the tendency of any object to oscillate between useful tool and dangerous weapon may be a function of its inherent characteristics, rather than the end to which it is employed by human actors:

What contemporary object can be both a tool and a weapon, like the machete? Communication technologies like cell phones might serve as one candidate, especially in light of their application during the “Arab Spring.” But can the iPhone ever bear the same gravitas as the machete? Is silicon the new steel? Information has been a part of every arsenal, revolutionary or otherwise. Still, it’s hard to imagine driving a smartphone into a body “down to the Apple.”

By contrasting the iPhone with the “gravitas” of the machete, Cline suggests that, although an iPhone might be used as a weapon, it’s not–unlike the machete–a weapon per se. Does that, though, mean that an iPhone is any less dangerous? The iPhone manufacturing process is detrimental to the environment, and iPhones themselves become environmental pollution when they are discarded. The environmental degradation caused by iPhones over their entire life cycle may ultimately far outweigh the benefits we derive from them during the relatively brief period during that life cycle when they are useful to us.

In “The Collector” and “Unpacking My Library,” Benjamin explores how individual identity is constituted through subject/object relationships. For Benjamin, the act of collecting–which transforms the commodity into the collected object–can be a significant act of resistance in part because collectors don’t fit easy, familiar categories such as “consumers” or “producers” of exchange and use value. The object itself, however, presumably remains unaffected by that transaction. Is it possible to argue these two pieces of writing are more about the power objects have over us, than they are about any power we might have over them? And if so, if we really don’t ultimately exercise much control over our things, does that make all that uncontrollable stuff inherently dangerous?

An image of a ceramic deer collection, including one blue and one green deer.
Image credit: “Deeries” by Katie Nicosia on Flickr.
While on their surface, such questions might seem too abstract to be worth much consideration, history is full of examples that demonstrate how human failure to consider adequately or understand completely what objects are and what they do has resulted in substantial harm. Early cosmetics contained heavy metals such as lead that slowly poisoned those who manufactured and used them. During the early nineteenth century, a fad for a particular shade of green dye resulted in what might be viewed as an “epidemic” of arsenic poisoning. Our inability to understand the long-term effects of industrialization and an ever-increasing dependence on fossil fuels was arguably a direct cause of climate change

Carefully read Cline’s essay, and use that piece and some of the resources linked in this prompt as a starting point for some quick research. Combine a web search with a search of the library’s eJournals, looking for resources that might help us understand more about the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which objects exert their influence in the world regardless of the steps we take to control them. Craft a post that summarizes the results of your research and provides links or citations to useful resources.

Posting: Group 1

Commenting: Group 2

Category: Sharp Things

In your Blog #5 post, you should do more than offer a list of source summaries. Rather, you should frame the summary of your research, as a cohesive response to a research question that is posed or suggested by this prompt. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

Feature Image: “Danger of Falling” by Minchioletta on Flickr.