Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Three Reflections on Stickiness

For the stickiness deliverable, I’ve written three short reflections tangential to the aforementioned concept. The first, “Covered in Stickiness: A True Story of Tree Sap, Honey, and iPods,” has nothing to do with the sub-title. The second, “Me in Media,” wonders about the role of multimedia in perception of self. The third, “I Am What I Collect,” meanders through thoughts on sets as a description of a person. “But self! How can these be related to stickiness?” you might ask yourself in surprise. To me, stickiness is very strongly correlated to self-perception. The reason I keep something with me has a lot to do with the way I look at myself.

These contain obnoxious amounts of self-reference and opinion. They’re thoughts, not research papers, and are to start discussions, not end them, so it would be great to see a comment or two at the end! :)

Covered in Stickiness

A True Story of Tree Sap, Honey and iPods

Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick and undoubtedly society’s choice experts on the idea of stickiness, say that a sticky idea is something that stays with you really well. You remember it, and it influences the way you act, what you buy, etc. However, stickiness can also be viewed from a product sense, to which entrepreneur Steve Gold’s stickiness lecture for Vital Ideation was more akin. I’m going to investigate the case of the latter (or, more specifically, things that would relate to the latter more).

Sticky products are things that you want to buy, and why you buy them is anyone’s guess. My personal guess is that sticky products define who you want to be. My guess is also very much like a philosopher’s personal theory that is quite accurate in some cases, but overall can describe nowhere near the entire story. So in that sense, I’m annoyed with it. I will continue anyways.

I immediately sat down to define myself by my possessions—to see what I’ve bought that defines me. Trying to describe myself with my possessions was a slightly unnerving exercise, as it probably should be. But I started writing labels and making bubbles and arrows and dotted lines and boxes, and when I thought I had generated enough fluff, I took a close look and noticed some trends. Here’s what I found…

Me in Media

Defining the Digital Identity

Perhaps it’s a function of the fact I am a student of engineering growing up in the digital age, but I found that electronics and electronic media (which is the sole use of the term I will be using in this paper) strongly define who I am.

The largest theme on the paper that I was ideating on was a large cloud shooting off of “laptop” called “MEDIA” (yes, in engineering all-caps). Now this is a bit tangential to a product already, but I found that these things matter most to me. So I went with it. In MEDIA, I have my pictures, my music (and podcasts), my videos, my writing, and a few things I lumped in as “digital creativity”—my code, multimedia projects, music compositions, etc.

Again, these are not things I bought to define me. Instead, they are largely things I’ve created. The computer is a great way to store created things. Not all types of created things, of course. Paintings and classical music are orders of magnitude more satisfying live. But I don’t paint, do I? And yeah, I compose, but software transcribes the music. It gets played elsewhere.

But if I were to lose all that, it would mean a good deal more to me than losing my credit card, guitar, and (limited college) furniture. But the point remains. Most creation of any sort has some decent way of being stored in a digital format, and this collection of digital media defines me because what I create defines who I am.

I Am What I Collect

The Role of Collections in Self-Definition

On my page of self-defining fluff, I noticed another trend. This particular trend begins with an “l” and ends with “ists”. Congrats! It’s “lists”! My page was practically covered in lists! And the cool part about these lists is not the practical nature they served.

What I mean by that is that these lists of things were not grocery lists, task lists, homework lists, etc. They didn’t correspond to things that needed to get done. Instead, they were lists of things slowly accumulated, all belonging to a specific genre, and all describing me. These were lists that integrated over time to add up to this every-changing function of self.

What does that mean? It means that instead of checking all the items off, I added new ones with the expressed purpose of further defining myself with that collection. For instance, consider books. I have a bookshelf in my room, and I am dang proud of it. Whenever I go into a new room or house and see a bookshelf, I often ask permission to look at it. Why? Because I learn about you through your books (to those of you reading aloud at home, that last sentence can sound pretty creepy with the right inflection). My set of books define me—entrepreneurship, Catholic, history, outdoors, math and science, programming and reference books—with of course more than a few random ones here and there.

Another list I had was my media, but I already covered that in decent detail. The thing I did not mention is the fact that I wrote down “collection” a bunch—the right term to think of may be “synergy” (apologies, buzzword, I know… I don’t like them any more than you do). Synergy is the word correlated with the phrase “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” and in this specific case, refers definitely to the fact that my music collection, for instance, is more than just a bunch of songs/albums. As a set, it defines me. If anyone had the same music collection as I did, well for one I would be surprised (considering the size of it), but second, I would probably freak out and start asking them a ton of questions. After all, anyone who has all my music has all my personality, right? Right??

Ask yourself if that’s a reasonable thought, because I’m not that it is. But I would naturally want to see if coincidences extend, and some part of me would love to see that they did. But I will take the safe road and assume they don’t, as the number and size of each of my collections is enough to statistically distinguish me from any other person on the map. Perhaps that’s why I say they define me…

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