..:: I loved my iPod, her name was Clea ::… The iPod as “relational artifact”

Posted: 21/09/2010 in ARIN6903 Exploring Digital Cultures, Uncategorized

..:: songs I listened to while writing this post, selected randomly by an iPod: “Flowers on the Wall” by Johnny Cash, “Wolf at the Door” by Radiohead, “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Lea” by Louise Attaque ….

I loved her. Her name was Clea (she was named after the third volume of Durell’s The Alexandria Quartet, one of my favourite novels) and her skin was fair and silky. Her tight anatomy was round at just the right places. Moreover, our moods were always coordinated. It was magical. If I was happy, she would sing a Bob Marley song to me. If I was prey to a sudden attack of nostalgia, she would whisper Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien” or Milla Jovovich’s version of “Satellite of Love”. And she was sporty too: she ran with me as I trained for the half-marathon…. sometimes she would get silly and sing “We are the champions” when we were about to cross the 15km threshold. We must have sung Jeff Buckley’s Grace a thousand times while driving at night, glancing at the million stars that make up Mexico City’s chaotic skyline. She was with me for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. She was sexy, nurturing and very, very smart.

I knew something was wrong on a Sunday night, when I was ready to go to bed and I asked her to read me a story… she didn’t say no, but something in her brain was wrong, as she was unable to recall a story she had told me many, many times. Then, on our way to work, she stopped talking… or singing…. or blinking. Her eyes were shut and her lips pointed downwards: it is an expression I will never forget. Clea was dead. Not broken: dead. I mourned her for about two weeks.

Then I met another of her kind…this one was slicker, more beautiful and a bit thinner. Her dark, glistening skin was soft to the touch and, I am sad to say, she was a bit smarter than Clea. I called her Justine (after the first volume of The Alexandria Quartet) and since then we’ve had a close, tight relationship. I have refused to replace her with a younger version of herself (one that would react instantly upon my touch): she is the perfect companion.


Sherry Turkle’s argument that psychoanalysis is a rich theoretical framework for studying our relationships with digital devices should not be discarded. Theories around “relational artifacts” have been around for decades, but today’s artifacts are different and fulfill more of our emotional needs. They also represent initiation rituals: one is not a grown-up until she/he is put behind the wheel of a car. Likewise, as computers and gadgets become increasingly personalized, we attach more of our everyday lives to them… they also become a sort of “memory artifacts”, as we associate moments of our lives to the times when we had them: our high-school computer, our college laptop (girlfriend?)… our first iPod. And we, in fact, put something of ourselves in them.

César: “So what sort of person are you?”.

Stranger: “Here’s who I am” -as she hands me her iPod so I can browse through her music collection, which is exactly what I imagined it would be–.

What would Freud say, eh? The question, as Turkle suggests, is: what is it in us that leads us to fulfill emotional and now social needs through machines?


Turkle, Sherry (2004) “Wither psychoanalysis in computer culture” in Kaplan, D.M. (ed.), Readings in the philosophy of technology. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, pp. 415-429.

For ARIN6903, Exploring Digital Cultures, The University of Sydney (Master in Digital Communication and Culture).

P.S. A lot of this has to do, I think, to the way in which artifacts resemble our human anatomy. I think that one of Apple’s many bright ideas was to make computers round… as our bodies. Scott McCloud drew a beautiful diagram to explain this process of abstraction in Understanding Comics. Notice how the last drawing resembles a power outlet. Does any of your gadget resemble you?

Something funny: the horror, the horror!


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