Helen Dewitt, Lost in Commodification: An Experimental Workshop for the Repair, Maintenance and Invention of Social Machines

Thursday 22 January 2015, 7pm

“In the last century, someone who bought an electrical appliance in the UK had further purchases to make. A plug with correct amperage and two screwdrivers (one tiny, one small) were also required (and no, these were not invariably sold in the same shop). The appliance, unpacked, had a cord ending in three plastic-coated wires; it was the business of the plucky owner to fit plug to cord in the home.

Even non-electricians know quite a lot about what’s needed to use an electrical appliance. It must be connected to a current; access is provided through outlets. We can see at a glance that a cord ending in wires rather than a plug is missing something crucial which must be supplied. (Only someone very young would try to tape the wires to the wall and wonder why it didn’t work.)

With what I am calling social machines, what’s missing is not necessarily visible. Something as simple as the plug and pair of screwdrivers may be needed–but we don’t have a cord with telltale wires, we don’t have the social practice of fitting the plug ourselves.”

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