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Culture

Objectifying Objects: An Objective Enquiry Into Our Relation With Objects

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The human world, as we know it, is made up of objects. I am able to write this article because of the laptop, wifi-router and a world to inspire my mind. Just imagine what a world without objects would look like. Yes, nature in its most organic state would abound. But this state of nature won’t make sense to us simply because objects are our interface. Objects are an amalgamation of human creativity and innovation. For instance, take mobile phones and how precious they are to our modern lives. A mere touch can do so much. In fact, many magical objects that make life easier and even give it a familiar shape can be found in everyday life. Our human ingenuity lies in outsourcing human functions to objects. Thus, the object becomes a means to fulfil something. The means may be necessary but underappreciated, like a glass cup, elastic plastic bands, masks or fans. Certain means such as Chhota Bheem (an Indian cartoon) stickers, designer lights and Air Pods may appear to be objectively futile but they are status symbols or fads. Certain objects like cars are detrimental to people and the planet yet they are a necessity owing to their systemic dependence. These categories notwithstanding, there’s a general lack of sensitivity towards these objects.

Objects not only make up our world but a lot about a person is revealed through their relationships with objects. How we organize our space even influences our life’s outcomes. The entire philosophy of Feng Shui is based on this premise. Even in a more general sense, if one’s cupboard is not organized then there’s a probability of getting late each time one has to step out. My mom often says, "The state of your room is the state of your mind." I couldn’t agree more. My chaotic phase immediately shows through my relationship with objects. Not just visually unpleasant, a messy room becomes problematic because I am unable to find the right thing at the right time. I sulk, make do without the object and then find it three months later when I finally clean up my space. Every time I organize my cupboard, I come across things like clothes, jewelry, old birthday cards, etc. These gratitude capsules motivate me to be better. I also come across junk that was lurking in deep spaces or standing between me and the useful objects. In this sense, sorting your things equals sorting your life.

Scratches on a phone tell a story: a story of callousness, often unintentional. Every time my phone falls, I cross my fingers but then remember that the Gorilla glass will save my pocket. Product purchase terms like warranty and free service point to the growing distance between the immediate user and the object. This story of callousness runs across the inexpensive material milieu. Switched on fans and lights not in use, losing your water bottle, tiffin box, earphones or mask are a few examples. Certain companies charge a premium for products having better safety checks. It seems that humans have outsourced their ability to even take care of things or other beings. The perception of abundance and availability normalizes such behaviors and applies in the case of disposable culture as well. Disposable utensils and packaging materials made of plastic are used gregariously. It’s an 'eat as much as you can' buffet. For example, in any typical Indian upper-class wedding, water is served in miniature Bisleri bottles. While cost and accident wise, plastic bottles are a safe option but people use it incessantly. They take another bottle while the previously used water bottle is still half full. The half-filled bottles meet the fate of a dustbin. Maybe the guests can be encouraged to take the bottles home and make something useful out of them. Such wastefulness in a world approaching scarcity of all kinds is disgraceful.

Wastefulness of objects is not just convenient but encouraged by the system. Maybe that is what makes it convenient. Planned obsolescence is the designing of industrial goods in such a way that they are pre-manufactured to fall out of use. Through inherent deficits, changing trends, etc., capitalists use methods that compel consumers into conspicuous consumption. Single-use mineral bottles and technology products are some of its most vibrant lines. A linear production cycle, where there is no connection between the stages of resource extraction and waste creation, is an extremely neo-colonial production method. The Colonial West has always treated its colonies as ‘Draupadi’s Akshaya Patra’: a bottomless resource pit. This mentality has become democratized in the erstwhile colonies.

The issue of women being objectified has been explored in the discourse on gender. But it seems that this attitude has transferred from non-human to human categories. Thus, the very category of 'objects' is exploitative. In primary school, one of the initial lessons in science was the differentiation between living and non-living things. This strict dichotomy expels the scope of basic kindness towards the non-living material world. Everything that adds to the biological processes of life is non-living. Even our physical-social systems are partly non-living. In a world where we are disconnected from nature, non-living connections are our source of survival. Maybe the human disarray over the rise of machines is a general fear of the supremacy of non-living things in our human lives. With literary devices like personification and metaphor, poets have been quite woke in their understanding of this connection. To become mindful materialists, we may need poetic romance and fluidity.

Ananya Rai

Delhi South '23

Ananya is a 2nd year, history honours student from Jesus and Mary College who laughs at the most random things and get's inspired by everything.
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