My title includes a "hashtag" to draw attention to an absence in most discussions about technology. This theme week follows the Consumer Electronics Show, and, if Twitter or tagged blog posts offer any indication, CES seems to facilitate utopian dreams about technological futures without things that #FAIL (to function, win, or succeed). While the New York Times explains how the "#" character is used to tag posts on sites like Twitter, copy-editors can remind us of another use: the "#" designates an absence as a symbol for the need to enter an absent#space where one did not exist. Hashtags on Twitter aim to provide a meta-meaningful context for (often terse) comments but, similar to my title, fail to provide an overt connection between words by jumping from thought-filled phrase to under-developed theme. Discussions about technology at CES foreground fantasies about faster, newer, prettier, and thinner things by displacing conversations about older or failing devices. These discussions, like many others about technological things, fail to address the meaningfulness of technological failure.
What do we learn about the "thingness" of technologies when they "fail" to function? And, more poignantly, what might we learn about our misperceptions about "things" when we cannot or will not fulfill their expectations? This Intel advertisement problematizes the significance of successful, human invention. This robot's reaction to being viewed as an object seems anything but artificial, which prompts us to consider things beyond their use-value, as some-thing other than use-filled. The robot's anthropomorphic form might prompt our sympathies, but I wonder if or when we feel similarly sympathetic about other technological things. Maybe we fail to consider our inter-faced influence–how hard we use and abuse our technological things–when software glitches or computers fail to function, when things begin to reveal how improperly we understand our ability to inter/face an/other.
Each person participating this week on In Media Res will provide a unique response to the question that titles our theme, "What are these Technological Things?", and I hope our discussions about technology might also open up the possibility to re-/consider the power of failure. Let us consider the significance of failure by thwarting an emphasis on successfulness and mastery, which, Judith Halberstam argues, allows us to refigure our power over others toward relationships with others and things.