consumer design | June 09, 2011

Rob Walker: When Digital Icons Become Physical Artifacts

New York Times contributing writer Rob Walker is a keen observer of the intersection where consumerism, technology, and design meet. It only makes sense, then, that he's the newest voice at Design Observer, the world’s leading design blog. In his inaugural post, the lucid commentator on material culture coins the term “dedigitization”—meaning “things from the digital world crossing over into physical manifestations.” Items like orange pillows featuring the RSS logo, rings in the shape of emoticons, and a rubber stamp that features Facebook’s iconic “Like” image.

Walker reminds us that, over the past few years, people have gotten used to buying digitized goods—like digital clothing for digital dolls—but we're now seeing a counter movement: iconic symbols from the virtual world finding physical form. “These objects remind me of friends who refer to things that happen IRL [in real life] with a kind of wink, suggesting that the dichotomy between digital and not-digital really has nothing to do with which one is ‘real’,” Walker writes. He adds that there's a darker subtext in how ubiquitous these symbols have become: “They’re more familiar to us than the shape of the leaves on the tree just outside your window.”

The post is a strong start for the Walker, hitting on a classic Walkeresque theme: namely, why material objects hold value for us. As in his insightful and witty talks, he manages to provoke closer consideration of the stories that our objects tell—stories about how we live and who we are.

Read more about consumerism speaker Rob Walker

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