Is this the most significant Significant Object yet?

Posted by Rob Walker on January 25, 2010
Posted Under: Things/Thinking

Well, is it?

The Significant Objects project has conclusively demonstrated that narrative adds measurable value to objects.

What does this imply about the objects themselves, and whoever created and produced them? Something I hear often from assorted gurus on design, marketing, and the like, is that consumers value the story of an object in the sense of knowing how that object was made, or designed. Did a recognized Design Genius dream it up? Is there footage of the whiteboard meetings where the genius insight was arrived at? Or: Was the object crafted by hand? Perhaps knowing more about the crafter’s skill-acquisition history, or personal ideology, adds valuable narrative.

Yet the Significant Objects project added measurable value even while explicitly ignoring such matters. Every Significant Object carries two narratives, but neither has anything to do with the kinds of stories just suggested. Instead there is the narrative invented by the writer who has agreed to create a story about whatever doodad is for sale; and, in addition, there is the story of the project itself. Probably both of these narratives add value to some extent, with specifics varying from buyer to buyer. But while most of the objects sold over the course of the project have been mass-produced, the intent of whoever designed them, whoever marketed them, and why, and how, is flagrantly disregarded, replaced with pure fiction. Arguably, Significant Objects obliterates designer/producer intent.

Still, whatever the fate of that intent, its results remain in the form of thing itself. Clearly some item sold by Significant Objects have been more intrinsically appealing than others, and it must be conceded that however much our writers’ stories increased the value of an object in the open market, the aesthetics of the object must figure in somehow.

Which brings me to a recent Significant Object: the Mystery Object, with story by Ben Greenman. In this instance, not only is the designer’s intent ignored, not only is the material backstory disregarded, the object itself is not present.

What we have is Ben Greenman’s narrative about the object, and perhaps the narrative of Significant Objects as a project — to which the addition of a non-present object of course adds yet another pleasing plot twist. By eliminating the object itself from the equation until after the bidding has concluded, this auction sells invented Significance in its purest, most uncut form yet.

In a sense, this makes the Mystery Object unique even among the project’s already-singular series of offerings; as a result, it may be the most valuable object yet, not despite its absence from the scene until the moment that value is determined, but because of that absence. Who wouldn‘t want to own such a thing — whatever it is?

Bidding stands at $28.50.

UPDATE: It sold for $103.50. That’s pretty Significant, don’t you agree? Details here.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page. Tags:

Reader Comments

Reminds me of the blind boxes that are the rage in vinyl toy collector circles. Which is a knock-off of how baseball card packs work. Which is an underage cousin to slot machines. It isn’t the thing inside that ultimately sells these things: it’s the anticipation that floods the brain with happy juice.

Think Apple knows a little about this?

Written By Munson on January 27th, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

I think that the story, if it’s a good story — and this one is — can only increase the value of an unseen object, if for no other reason that it suggests that the author was inspired. An object that can inspire an artist has value.

Written By Mark on January 28th, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

Good point about the toy collector blind boxes. Also interesting about the object having value because it provided inspiration — although our objects are by intention pretty random low-value things, I don’t figure they would have inspired a writer without the intervention of the project. Good thoughts though, thanks.

Written By Rob Walker on January 29th, 2010 @ 7:42 am

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