It’s still somewhere on my brother’s desk, I think on the dusty middle shelf: a small, silver, Integral-branded USB stick. I can’t remember the exact price of it, but I once mentioned that my school had started to sell the 128mb things and asked whether he wanted one. I had to eke out saving and transferring my work on floppy disks for a little longer before I was promoted to these revolutionary little marvels. Now, everything’s backed up to the mysterious clouds of our tech overlords.
It’s just an example of one of many things whose ubiquity comes and goes with time. The most personal demonstrations of this can be seen through the phenomenon from the early 2000 onwards, of people sharing what was in their backpacks, starting with Flickr and reaching all the way to tech sites and Instagram tags.
I tend to focus on the tech a little not just because of my own nerdiness, but the fact that iPods, PDAs and dreadful laptops were adding so much bulk to our backs and shoulders in recent years. Ephemeral, important information being stored inside delicate electronics.
Setting aside the mundanity of keys and wallets, the best photos people shared were the ones that made you ask “what the heck is that?” while squinting at the bizarre artefact on your screen. Very game-like. Usually these things are either personal mementos that they’d end up explaining in their blog post or comments, but other times they were well-designed essentials. (Disclaimer: “essentials” can vary for each person.)
One definite essential for me and many others is the use of a notebook. The sizes and designs of these are pretty much infinite of course. My brother got hold of numerous, tiny-sized Whitelines notebooks some years ago and I immediately grabbed a whole pack.
As the name implies, they’re filled with grey-coloured paper, with lines and margins printed in white. It’s weird yet the whole thing works. I’ve always kept one with me during important meetings or interviews, from the time I interned years ago to when I met the great Tetsuya Mizuguchi. But like a pretentious writer, I have other notebooks I’m trying to fill, including a colourful, orange-spiral-bound I bought at least a decade ago. It, or something similarly strange-looking, is immediately opened when I’m working, home or away.
The thing is, I know I’m not alone as some people are just as picky about this and also their writing pens. So. Many. To. Choose. From. My own favourite are those Uni-ball eye fine ones.
Each item inside our backpacks seems to become an object of intense fascination when presented and performed for an audience. Aside from the personal treasures we wouldn’t part away with, so many of us still rely on tangible tools once we start heading out the door. I think it’s all to do with knowing we have something with us to communicate or create a lasting memory should something happen. The tools alone can’t carry any meaning without being given one. If that isn’t the jumping-off point for something playful, what is?