Rob Walker, a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, talks with PSFK about his Significant Objects project, a literary & anthropological experiment that demonstrates that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can, in fact, be measured objectively.
People value and are attracted to stories, and this often plays out in the world of objects. What we tried to do is take that observation in a different direction. Instead of a traditional story ‘about an object’ (where it was made, why it’s so great, how it will make your life better), we wanted creative writers to invent stories inspired by objects, which can lead to all kinds of unpredictable results. And in this case, the results turned out to be strong enough that the stories stood on their own.
When we started the project, we had no idea how writers would respond, or if they’d want to participate at all. The pleasant surprise was that writers seemed to like the idea as a kind of creative challenge—and the longer the project went on, the more inventive participants became. I think most were at least somewhat interested in our ‘economic’ experiment (selling the objects on eBay) but I suspect most were interested in testing their own narrative inventiveness, trying to come up with approaches no one else had thought of yet. Of course when we figured out that this was happening, we embraced it. And actually, that’s what led to the book. Originally the stories sort of supported the objects that inspired them. But finally we realized that the stories themselves had their own value, something beyond the project that caused them to exist.
Rob’s book Significant Objects was published by Fantagraphics in 2012.
Original photography for PSFK by Catalina Kulzar