People + Things = ?

In a research project I was conducting this summer, I came across this quote:

People and things only exist in relation to each other (Orlikowski & Scott)

A house is only a house if it is somebody’s home. A person is only a landlord, or tenant, as long has he has a house to live in. A book only performs its purpose when being read. A person only becomes a reader once he has read the words.

Another example is that of social media. Think about it. If there was no one on Facebook, or Twitter, the platform would be completely useless. With no one to talk to, what is the point of being on a social site? Facebook needs you to perform its purpose. Simple enough.

However, YOU need Facebook too, to perform your goals. By  liking, commenting or sharing, you actually do things. Facebook allows you to achieve goals and perform actions. And behind this stands the concept of “affordances”.

The idea behind the concept of affordances is that tangible or intangible objects (a book, or a website) give humans performative capacities. People seldom think about what things enable them to do, because their usage is often automatized and thought-free. Who writes a comment on Facebook and actively thinks that the mere fact that this comment section exists and has been developed allows you to:

  • share your thoughts
  • engage in a discussion with your friends
  • signal things about your preferences, personality and standpoint
  • be embedded in a network of discussions about a specific topic
  • be more accurately targeted by ads
  • and much more…!

Take a moment to think about what the simplest object in your life allows you to do. Think about what websites allow you to do. Think about…the real utility of each of these things? What are your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “People + Things = ?”

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