Shaping Things | Bruce Sterling

Summary of: Shaping Things
By: Bruce Sterling


Delve into the fascinating world of ‘Shaping Things’ by Bruce Sterling, a book that lays out an insightful analysis of the evolution of human-made objects and their impact on society. The book unveils the concept of spimes, a neologism denoting physical objects connected to vast amounts of data about themselves and other objects. Understanding the concept of spimes is essential in our quest for a sustainable world. The book examines the various stages of human technosocial development, including artifacts, machines, products, gizmos, and the emergence of spimes. Prepare to embark on a journey through the past, present, and future of human creation, and explore the ways in which technology is shaping our lives.

The Evolution of Human Technosocial Development

This book explores the evolution of human technosocial development from the age of artifacts to the emergence of spimes. It highlights how industrial designers can change the world by building sustainable products. The author emphasizes the need for a shift in aesthetic that can help create a world where we can savor life without spoiling it for our descendants.

The poet Derek Walcott captures the innate desire of human beings to create. However, what are designers creating today? Most of our products end up as garbage that will one day be unearthed and studied by anthropologists. The world of organized artifice is transforming in poorly understood and little explored ways. The author argues that products must be built sustainably, and wasteful production is obsolete. This victory can be achieved if industrial designers adapt technology for human use and change their aesthetic.

Technosocial evolution has led to the creation of artifacts, machines, mass-produced products, gizmos and, finally, spimes. The age of artifacts started when humans first used tools, while the age of machines began around 1500. With World War I, the age of products emerged, where mass production was in full force. The age of gizmos began in 1989 and remains in the present. Gizmos are characterized as unstable, user-alterable, and multi-featured objects that are connected to the communication infrastructure. Finally, in 2004, the precursor of a new sort of object appeared – the spime.

The author argues that industrial designers have the potential to change the world. They are the creators of a new era, and technological advancements can change society for the better. However, to achieve this, designers must develop a new aesthetic that builds sustainable products that are meant to last. They must strive to ensure that our products do not end up in landfills. The author emphasizes that modern people can savor “life without spoiling it for our descendants.”

In conclusion, the book attempts to trace the evolution of human technosocial development through the ages. It highlights the critical role of industrial designers in building a sustainable future. The author argues that it is possible to achieve this objective if designers develop a new aesthetic that prioritizes the creation of sustainable products. The book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in industrial design, anthropology, or sustainability.

The Age of Spimes

The “spime” is a new concept for a technological object that is connected with the internet, stores data, and potentially communicates with other spimes. This will eventually lead to a sustainable world where current archaic forms of energy and materials become obsolete. Examples of spimes include ID chips for pets that store vital data and communicate with global databases and items like shoes or laptops. As spimes become more prevalent, they will transform human society. Designers play a significant role as gatekeepers between current objects and those of the future.

The Future of Objects

Objects should embrace change and stop fighting the future. The book discusses the concept of spimes, objects that are trackable, modular, networked, and provide information about themselves. Unlike monuments, which turn matter into waste, and recyclables, which are not yet mastered, spimes accept change and have a quasi-biological lifespan. With a closer marriage between data and physical objects, these toy-boxes may expand the options of our descendants rather than causing irreparable damage to their heritage.

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