Mystery Object #19: Breasts and Personal Technology

Subject to continual upgrade cycles and constant and dependable obsolesce, our personal technology resist the attachment and love that we develop for them. While we take them everywhere and learn to depend on them for communication, entertainment and even to find a bite to eat—the technology pushes back and resists our advances—never retaining the object-histories that might give them human meaning over time.

With no history our personal technology never develop the patinas of value that speak to their interaction with us over time. The unique histories and experiences that inform iPhone “crack chic” no doubt speak to this. What could be a greater love story to share than that of near loss and ultimate survival marked by the scar of broken Gorilla glass? “I nearly lost my iPhone, but it came back to me!”

If our technology never ages, then histories are made for them—”making up” the glass and metal and plastic to imitate the warm glow of antiques. This no doubt informs the steampunk aesthetic—especially the modding of contemporary phones and computers with the aesthetics of the 19th century. As Hieronymus Isambard “Jake” Von Slatt at The Steampunk Workshop describes, “it has something to do with technology and romance.”  The objects of our technology never have enduring relationships with us. They never grow old with us, they just become increasingly forgetful and ultimately useless. Alzheimers not Abelard and Heloise.

Ultimately we make our generic, banal and impersonal mass-produced products our own through personalization—making them more like we want them to be. The most common sites where we do this for our phones and computers are through their cases and mouse pads, respecively. Think of the thousands and thousands of distinct iPhone cases and mouse pads among which consumers can choose to find the one that expresses something about themselves. Bending the homogeneous product to the individual desire of the consumer.

I make these brief observations about unrequited love, dominance, affection, and Alzheimers—the anti-history of technology and the fantasy of an affectionate technological embrace—as a way to at least offer points of departure for making some sense of iPhone cases and mouse pads that I saw for sale in Akihabara. Featuring images of vulnerable, doe-eyed girls—scantily clad or in maid costumes—the two-dimensional images had three-dimensional breasts. Soft and jelly-filled—puni puni—as advertised on the packaging. The “breasts” end up in the hand of the iPhone user or under the wrist of the mouse manipulator.

They had to be mystery objects, because they begged me for a context—an answer to the why of production and consumption.

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