Stories We Tell Ourselves
by Jay Habegger
My Dad has spent a lifetime acquiring tools for his workshop. These aren’t your everyday shop tools. These are serious tools for serious projects – tools such as milling machines, spot welders and large sheet metal shears.
On a recent visit he mentioned to me that he has started to think about cleaning out the shop and getting rid of a few tools. I instantly spoke up and said that getting rid of any of them was out of the question. I’d take all of them. The 500 lb sheet metal shear? Yep, I’d find a home for it. How about the 100 lb sheet metal hole punch? Yep, I’ll take that too.
Now, I live in a normal home in the suburbs of Boston. Space isn’t tight like in a town home or an apartment. But, I don’t have a spare 1,000 square feet for a machine shop either.
And, by the way, my DIY’ing these days is limited to hanging pictures and fixing the toys that are routinely broken by my young daughters.
Why the interest in heavy tools that I’m unlikely to ever use?
Two reasons. First, I certainly like to think of myself as a resourceful, do-it-yourself guy that can use his hands; I self-identify with Dad and people who use those tools, even if I don’t. Second, I like the back-story of those tools. They were there when I grew up and my Dad used them to invent things and do the DIY sort of things that I only think about.
So, when Rob Walker recently wrote a piece for his Consumed column in the New York Times which documents a new movement to link objects with stories I didn’t need much convincing. The stories that we associate with objects are what gives them a meaning that transcends their mere utility, whether the story is about how we identify ourselves through an object, or how the stories around an object make it more valuable.
Walker describes TalesofThings.com as an example of a place where consumers can associate an object with text and video to tell about its back-story or why it is important to the owner.
Other examples include itizen.com and StickyBits which allow a user to put a barcode on an item and then, using a smart-phone application, scan the item and retrieve the uploaded story or build a social network around physical objects.
These stories about objects (although, aside from these services the stories are usually unwritten but no less real) are at the heart of what we do at OwnerIQ. Our entire approach is based on the premise that the things we own tell stories about who we are and how we want to be seen by others.
Consider my Dad’s tools as an example. The electronic note that I would attach to my Dad’s South Bend lathe is about self-reliance and how we used it to manufacture knobs for the heater in my 1985 Jeep CJ when the originals were lost.
I see myself as practical, self-reliant, resourceful and focused on function over form. The stories I attach to the objects I own about why I acquired them and what they mean to me conform to this self-identify. These elements in a brand resonate with me. And, I’d like others to see these things in me too, so the objects I have and brands I buy tend to reinforce that.
Hence wanting an entire machine shop at my house.
I wear a Timex Ironman watch because it’s water resistant, has more timers than I’ll ever need and can record the split times on 150 laps. My StickyBit: practical and functional. I’m not jealous, nor do I even notice for that matter, the guys wearing $1,000 mechanical watches. Not practical, form over function and not who I self-identify with. However, two weeks ago at dinner party a friend of mine was wearing a watch that had oodles of timers an altimeter, a barometer and a compass. Very practical, functional, self-reliant and resourceful. I noticed.
The items we purchase and own carry stories about us even if we don’t use one of the technologies Walker describes to make them explicit. To decipher these stories today, we have to use intuition, surveys and statistics. Perhaps in the future we can just read them online.