Alexandra Lange | Essays

Would You Like Words With That?


Way back at Christmastime I assigned myself a blog post about all the social shopping sites: Polyvore, Thingd, Svpply, and so on, that let you share your taste in whatever with whomever in easily clickable form. I even went so far as to put together my own private good design for toys assortment as a form of positive criticism after I dissed the market for the wooden, the simple and the primary colored as being for parents rather than kids. (Since that story ran, my son has found a use for the Automoblox. He's popped off all the wheels and arranges them as floor sculpture.)

But then I lost interest. I love stuff, not shopping, and these sites seemed to push sharing into the almost purely commercial realm. (Of course, you say, since they will only survive on advertising.) But I couldn't help but think that there was something missing in all that white space. We are what we buy, but some of us still need a narrative.

The Mavenist

The connection of stories and stuff is a perennial theme of my newish colleague Rob Walker's, from his Significant Objects project to his essays on Things Organized Neatly and, last week, The Burning House and Everyday Carry. These Tumblrs, which are almost entirely visual, have their story in the title. The people who submit things simply illustrate that story, over and over again, their pocket hauls revealing patterns (knives, iPhones), their must-saves revealing penchants for brand names. I can't think of a thing I would save except my kids.

But even so, I wanted more. When Frank Chimero announced his new blog The Mavenist (and please, please, stop with the -ists) it was with a long post about the difference between a gift and a collection, and included this description:
I’ve always wanted to have a blog where I could share the things I like: items of timely interest and the different curiosities I’ve amassed in my personal files the past few years. These things really should be shared (in the true sense) because they are gifts. Many of them were given to me, and if there is a benefit to the idea of giving a digital gift, it is that each time it changes hands, a copy is made. I do not lose my gift by giving it to you. Gifts may spread further and travel farther.
I took this to be literally true, that he was creating a site through which he and friends could share stories about stuff. But it was only a metaphor. His site is about conversation, not things and not, as I desire, both.

Everything Must Go

The site I have in mind has only been approximated, ironically, by Chappell Ellison as she tries to get rid of everything. She has the storytelling element, and a template that involves words as well as pictures. Getting rid of things is a mini-meme, and I agree we over-consume. But couldn't there be a web forum for thoughtful consumption? What's still missing is history. Why can't all these shopping sites have room for talk? To mention a designer, a date, a significance that isn't made up or personal? 

Could there be a Syms of stuff blogs, for the educated consumer?

Posted in: Technology

Comments [2]

Enjoyable post, Alexandra. I've yet to try any of those social shopping sites you mention, but the ones I've signed up for tend to bore me pretty quickly, for reasons similar to yours.

This is not a shopping site, nor is it quite what you're looking for, I don't think, but another variation that may be of interest is Itizen, have you seen that?

You're supposed to tag stuff and tell its story, etc., similar to the personal-story form favored by the "giving things away" crowd. But sometimes it's being used by object-creators. Maybe similar to the way that people in the craft world, and indie brands, and to some extent luxury brands, tell (selective) object backstories about how a thing was made/designed and by whom. There is just slightly more here if of interest:
Rob Walker

Thanks, missed this the first time around.

Itizen is not quite what I had in mind, but it seems like it would be a perfect merge with some of the stuff-sharing sites for parents. That's clearly not their target demographic (it never is for techy things, but that's another post), but what needs a tag with tips more than a bouncy chair or stroller? "Terrible at the beach," or "Only useful between weeks 10 and 25."

I guess what I want is a way to tell real, rather than manufactured or cravenly branded history of objects. I'm not sure how many would be interested besides me, but it seems like the existing templates could easily be tweaked to include more information. It would be like a bite-sized version of the longform sites, archiving information in a new way for new audiences.


Jobs | July 14