Objects of Function I: Ubiquity

The following paragraphs are lifted from a series of short essays that I wrote at the beginning of the final year of my degree. They explored my interest at the time of the concept of function, ubiquity and perceived value. I will publish them one at a time in a series of posts over the course of the month. I hope you enjoy reading them and I hope that they give you things to think about as well!

Ubiquity

Certain objects hold a unique kind of sway over us. There are designs and models that are just so timeless and fitting for their intended purpose that we instantly gravitate towards them, sometimes even passing up the opportunity to own newer and seemingly better objects in the process. These objects come to almost completely encapsulate their field as a whole.

When we talk about something being ‘ubiquitous’, what do we actually mean? The Free Dictionary defines the word as meaning, “Existence or apparent existence everywhere at the same time; omnipresence.” In essence, a ubiquitous object is prolific and not only that, but it is also generic.

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Take the white plastic garden chair as an example. On a warm summer’s day, these chairs spring up in gardens all over the country in their thousands, all of them sharing roughly the same design and form. This is what ubiquity is. It is the omnipresence of an object that through its faultless design characteristic and simple, everyday functionalism, has spread like wild fire throughout society. People almost unthinkingly buy and acquire them with their only thought on what this product will function as, and with very little though given to its social status or fashionable qualities.

The time-worn status of ubiquitous objects does not often come married to new products. In order for this to happen, a product must be present in the conscious psyche of perhaps several generations of consumers to attain a slowly developed and finely honed perception of worth and pragmatic value. It must then be copied and borrowed and its design and form spread and proliferated, often transcending the boundaries of copyright and patent law. And we as consumers have ways in which we adapt to this deluge of like-for-like products.

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The image above shows the best Stanley knife in the world. The reason why it holds this incredible accolade is simple; this is no ordinary Stanley knife – this is my Stanley knife, and so from my point of view at least, this slightly battered tool is the most desirable of its kind in existence. Attached to it are countless hours of faithful service, and so I would not trade it for anybody else’s or even a brand new one. Why should I? It works perfectly well. Its scuffed and marked exterior only goes to show the fact that it has served in numerous campaigns and came away with the medals to prove it.

There are millions of these knives out there, perhaps not all made by Stanley but all sharing the same general shape and design, and all of them a part of the legacy of the original product and model. With the 99E then, Stanley has created a ubiquitous product type; a hard and unchanging mould for others to follow, and when we own a ubiquitous product, we take the mass-moulded clone and in our own little and unthinking way, we put our own stamp on it. This is our way of shaping the object and turning it from just another item, no different to anyone else’s, into a one in a million piece that we maybe do not quite treasure, but that we feel a personal connection to that surpasses the million or so others exactly like it in existence.

Cheers. 😉

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