Vision

On Functionality as an Illusion

As opposed to many of my peers at Industrial Design, I do not attach much value to the functionality of designed objects, because in the end I don’t think the project of Life is about efficiency or convenience. It is about our ability to experience and explore the many qualities our world is rich. To pursue more efficient means of existing, of getting from A to B, of foraging food, of building a shelter, is to delude yourself that there is some kind of purpose to life. But there isn’t and that is not a bad thing, in fact the purposeless nature of life should be a source of freedom to follow your curiosities, desires and ambitions and to be inspired by the happy coincidences that are all abound. I don’t mean to say that technology has no merit; I am happy to be alive in a time with health-care, a strongly established legal system and ubiquitous literature and art, but I think it is limiting and superficial to say that making life easier is akin to making it better. Today there might be far less physical human suffering than, for example, in the middle ages, but at the same time it is an irrevocable fact that an increasing amount of individuals today suffer psychologically from depression, burn-outs, societal pressure, etcetera.

“The human enterprise is no longer about physical needs, but about psychological needs, which ironically require suffering to develop properly”

At this moment in time we have reached a state of welfare and technological prosperity that allow most human beings to meet their basic needs and, as such, the human enterprise is no longer about physical needs, but about psychological needs, which ironically require suffering to develop properly. In former, pre-information age, times simply surviving was an effortful task and quite an extraordinary feat to pull-off, which, I think, was an important source for each individual to draw strength from. Nowadays, on the other hand, one’s prolonged existence is normalised and supported by all kinds of external, institutional, powers, often leading to an existential identity crisis when reaching adulthood. Something I experienced myself two years back. To suffer and to overcome suffering are necessary for each individual to have a sense of meaning and to live happily.

“It is through the latter [progressive suffering] that one builds character and becomes empowered to cope with the existential fears that are a natural part of life and through the latter human culture advances”

Yet there are two types of suffering, destructive suffering – like waging wars, racism, sexism, etcetera, which are always on the expense of someone – and progressive suffering, which is the result of failing a certain endeavour that builds on top of existing sociocultural structures. It is through the latter that one builds character and becomes empowered to cope with the existential fears that are a natural part of life and through the latter human culture advances.

My personal endeavours are aimed at opening up a space for people to escape the immediacy and self-evidence of everyday life, by means of artefacts that play with their context. As, for example, the Unidentified Rolling Object did in Amsterdam six weeks ago.

Sightings of an Unidentified Rolling Object from Ingmar Nieuweboer on Vimeo.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “On Functionality as an Illusion”

  1. I like your interpretation of what I would define as your ‘meaning of life’, “to follow your curiosities, desires and ambitions and to be inspired by the happy coincidences that are all abound”. However, the point you make about the practicalities of life is in my opinion incorrect. I think that you take our daily bread for granted when you say “….foraging food, of building a shelter, is to delude yourself that there is some kind of purpose to life”. Without fulfilling these basic tasks you’re not going to be able to enjoy the ‘abound happy coincidences’. I see your meaning of life as too purist. It’s still important for everyone alive to eat, sleep, have shelter, warmth and love – these are the foundations of our life which we have to first fulfill in order to be able to live out our further curiosities, desires and ambitions.

    Like

    1. Hi Tenzin, I appreciate your comment and agree with you that the bare necessities of life, such as food, sleep, shelter, warmth and love, have to be met (as elaborated in the Hierarchy of Needs by Abram Maslov) before curiosities and ambitions can gain any priority; I think this is true for any living species or any culture. Perhaps I should have emphasised this more clearly in my vision. On the other hand, though, it is exactly the point that I try to make that these necessities are mostly being met and taken for granted in present day Western civilisation, and that it is somehow not leading to a happy life for everyone.

      In fact, we are at the other end of the scale where over-consumption has become a major societal problem; today, for example, more people in the world are overweight than there are people underweight (https://www.nextnature.net/2016/04/planet-fat-people-thin-people/). Life has, therefore, become about balancing needs instead of meeting needs. Moreover, food and shelter can be given, while self-esteem can only be acquired intrinsically; although meeting physical needs seems more immediate and urgent to the living organism, it are psychological needs that are the hardest to meet and can have the same devastating effects when they are not met. Again the irony is apparent as being dependent on others for your physical needs often weights heavily on your sense of self-worth and in that sense it is not a matter of achieving one need after the other, as Maslov’s Hierarchy suggests, but rather achieving them all in parallel, where meeting one means growing in another.

      There is still more to say, but I’ll leave it at that. The meaning of life is a complex subject 😉

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s