How can an object create a person?

Computer Man

“Guess who’s back?”

(Eminem – Without Me)

I’m back, baby!

I’m going to keep this blog alive if it kills me. It has become a part of me. In fact, it is the greatest personal example of a phenomenon that I have begun to notice recently.

Inanimate objects can greatly shape a person’s identity.

“Who are you?”

(The Who – Who Are You?)

Obviously, the identity of a person influences the objects they use, but the scary truth is that it works the other way around too. I’m not talking about the rich guy with the sports car or the woman with 100 pairs of shoes. I’m talking about objects that unlock parts of our personalities that may have otherwise lay permanently dormant.

I’m not here to get into an existential or spiritual debate about what makes a person who they are. I’m not here to tell you how to think. I am simply offering evidence of my claim in the form of my personal transformation.

This is not a psychological, theological, sociological, or physiological argument. If the argument must be identified with an “_ogical”, then the closest matching term would be technological. But, even that is an over simplification, which in and of itself is amazing considering how broad the term technological is.

So please, set your preconceived classifications aside and I’ll show you how objects can make us who we are.

“Where have you been?”

(Reel Big Fish – Where Have You Been?)

To state the obvious in a way that is either redundant or ironic depending on whether you’re referring to the method or the message, I am a writer. It really is the perfect job for me—mostly because I instantly fall in love with my own ideas. Still, every time I get an assignment for work, I almost giggle at the fact that I am paid to write things and that I actually enjoy it. The only people who might laugh harder at that notion than me are my elementary school teachers.

As a kid, I absolutely hated writing. It seemed like a boring waste of time. I wanted to be either outside running around or playing Nintendo. I didn’t want to be stuck sitting at a desk. When I had to be sitting at a desk, I preferred doing math. Math seemed more worthwhile at the time. Finishing a math problem felt like accomplishing something. Writing felt like the least efficient way to give an answer to a question.

The biggest reason I hated writing was that I was terrible at it, but in the ‘80s, that meant something entirely different than it does today. When I say I was terrible at writing, it has nothing to do with fashioning an argument or weaving together a story. I was terrible at putting the letters on the paper and I still am. My handwriting is atrocious. When I was in grade school, you were actually graded on stuff like that. I remember spending what seemed like hours upon hours practicing my cursive.

I wrote everything on top of the specially designed “slant sheets” that my dad made. The slant sheets were simply sheets of paper covered with parallel, diagonal lines, put in a clear plastic binder sheet. You would place the paper on which you were writing on top of the slant sheet and you could see the lines through the paper. As you would write, the diagonal lines helped you form your letters with uniform slant and uniform width. It was a very helpful tool, but for me it became something of a torture device. My hand is starting to ache just thinking about it.

With the physical act of writing being such a chore, I never even got around to thinking about crafting meaning out of the words I was using.

“How did I get here?”

(Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime)

Then came the computer. Without computers, I would be a completely different person. I don’t just mean that my life would be harder. Computers have changed the way I think and the things about which I think. In turn, those revolutions in thought have evoked different emotional responses than I would have had before—even in similar situations.

The computer and the word processor made putting words to paper easy. That ease of process allowed me to focus on what I was actually writing and how I wanted to write it. This new line of thinking opened up an entirely new world to me. I fell in love with conveying messages in interesting ways.

Crafting messages is now a big part of my identity. It may even be the biggest part. Now that writing is about ideas instead of hand cramps, I absolutely love it. It has changed the way I think about everything. It has opened up my world to new ideas, new people, and entirely new paradigms. All of this recalibration of my thoughts, emotions, and personality are only possible because of the computer.

“Could it be you?”

(Murder by Death – Spring Break 1899)

The computer made me who I am—a writer with a dash of musicality (hence the music references).

It’s not that hard to see how objects can shape a person’s identity. Who would Jimmy Hendrix have been without a guitar? What about Michael Jordan without a basketball? Columbus without a ship? They may still have been great at something else, but they wouldn’t be the same.

That’s my case.

What object(s) made you who you are?

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About John Dilley

John is an endless source of new ideas. With a background in both sports and music, he offers a unique perspective. He has written for The Daily Utah Chronicle, Filler, and has contributed content to several commercial websites. "Be it the past 10 beers or the past 10 years, may you learn from all of life's mistakes. Cheers!" - John Dilley

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