things we think with

Sherry Turkle asked scientists, humanists, artists, and designers to “trace the power of objects in their lives, objects that connect them to ideas and people.” In Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, published in 2007, you’ll find thirty-four essays on objects such as a rolling pin, a yellow raincoat, an axe head, a suitcase, a stuffed bunny, an apple.

In “Knots,” Carol Strohecker writes, “I understand being pulled; it is something that I know.”

In “The Archive,” Susan Yee writes about studying Le Corbusier’s drawings and how fortunate she feels to belong to a generation that has both created drawings on paper and on the computer. Drawings now, she writes, “are born digital. They will never be touched.”

Turkle divides the essays into six categories: objects of design and play, objects of discipline and desire, objects of history and exchange, objects of transition and passage, objects of mourning and memory, and objects of meditation and new vision.

My favorite essay was “Death-Defying Superheroes,” written by Henry Jenkins and placed by Turkle in the section on Objects of Mourning and Memory. Jenkins had read comics since grade school but became attached to them the week his mother died.

Retreating from the emotional drama that surrounded me, I found myself staring into the panic-stricken eyes of a young Bruce Wayne, kneeling over the newly murdered bodies of his parents. I had visited that moment many times before, but this time, our common plight touched me deeply.

Over the years, as he ages, the comics remain the same.

As such, they help me to reflect on the differences between who I am now and who I was when I first read them.

As Turkle writes in her introduction to the essays, “We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.”

~cross-posted at The Contrary Blog

9 thoughts on “things we think with

  1. I love the idea of writing essays on objects. As you’ll read in an upcoming post, I’ve been giving away most of my things, only keeping what’s dear and what I need. So I’ve been focused on objects lately and intrigued to read this collection of essays. Thanks, C.


    • Me too, Darrelyn. I’m so jealous. I would love to give away everything except the few important things. In fact I’ve written a story about this that I’ve been working on since 2006–can’t get it quite right. I did get up in the attic 2 weeks ago and managed to pitch several boxes of legal documents from that time in my life…


  2. This looks like a fascinating book. His chapter pairings are intriguing. I often feel sad that I let certain things go, thinking that I was moving on, and that they wouldn’t matter later in life: Nancy Drew books, letters from boys I met while cycling Europe, and my entire collection of vinyls. Thanks for bringing this essay collection to my attention.


    • There are things I wish I hadn’t given away too. In fact I’ve started a list–one was a pair of my mother’s heels–psychedelic colors and patterns–from the early sixties. I did keep my collection of Bobbsey Twin Books though…


  3. What a cool subject for a book of essays. I loved that last quotation. My kids’ school just had an art exhibit about collections including old comic books and a math teacher’s Hawaiian shirts. My daughter put in a photo of her glass animal collection that she inherited from me and added to. Like the commenter above, I also collected Nancy Drews but my daughter never took to them. Collections are so quirky.


    • I thought the subject was cool too, Sarah. And collections are quirky. I collect little things (which was the original title of the story I mentioned above): little colored pencils, little books, little pens, little journals…


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