Theory · · 1 min read

📚 Read This: “What Things Do” by Peter-Paul Verbeek

📚 Read This: “What Things Do” by Peter-Paul Verbeek
Background by Oliver Swin

A quick book recommendation: What Things Do, Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design by contemporary philosopher of technology Peter-Paul Verbeek.

If you've read Reshaping Our Expectations for Generative Design, you've already gotten a taste. In that piece, I quoted Verbeek's general point about the contexts of humans and technology; that, rather than technology arising from a specific human context, or a human context changing according to technology, there's actually an ongoing, "coformative" relationship where humans create technology from their own context, technology "finds" its place there, and in turn reshapes the very same context.

He illustrated this through the example of the telephone, which he says was originally intended to be a hearing device. “The context in which the device came to function,” Verbeek explains, “redefined it.” Subsequently, the telephone’s process of coming into existence allowed it to act on us by creating new possibilities that would reconfigure our relationship to communication.

It's a dense read, in the best way possible, honing in on the exact ways in which, for example, a designed object—through "denotative function"—can tell you about how it's supposed to be held or what it can do.

I think this book has made a great contribution to my thinking on the interface. Check it out. 🙂

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