Do objects have to be tangible to be loved?

I’m obsessed with objects and things (which, incidentally, aren’t the same – an object is specific and a thing is transient). Most of my art centres around objects and what they do for us and the ‘thingyness of things’ so my thinking antenna are always switched on to discussions on objects.

Yesterday I was browsing the internet looking for ideas for a topic for my dissertation which I will be writing in my next year at Wolverhampton University where I am hoping to top-up my foundation degree to full BA (Hons) in Fine Art. During my browsing I cam across an article in Science Daily which contemplates a topic related to the question in the title of this blog entry: virtual possessions have powerful hold on teenagers, researchers say. Reading this article brought me to thinks conclusion: virtual possessions have a powerful hold on all of us whatever our age.

These virtual possessions include: Facebook conversations, Instagram photographs, tweets, emails, websites, blogs, wish lists on Amazon and any piece of virtual information we decide we need to keep.

My best friends live here

My best friends live here

The article argues that virtual objects might in fact have a stronger pull, so not just an equal pull, on people’s emotions than solid objects.

If I had to list my most treasured possessions, I am sure I’d include my laptop in that list. I spend a huge amount of my time with my laptop. It comes with me on train journeys, I take it on holiday and I couldn’t get through a Sunday without it (never mind a week day). It is my portal onto the virtual world of knowledge, images, photographs, friendships, news, information and laughter. It is my library, my reference shelf and my entertainment. It also pays the bills (most of my work is carried out on my laptop).

If my laptop were purple I might treasure it more

If my laptop were purple I might treasure it more

Is it the physical laptop that I love? I don’t think so. It is all the delights that it allows me access to. The physicality of the keyboard and screen is irrelevant. They are the means to the objects that I treasure: the photographs, the emails and the tweets.

In some ways, this idea goes against everything I have recently come to believe about how we relate to our objects and the objects of others: through touch and feel. For my last project at college I wrote and thought deeply about how I needed to touch the First World War objects rather than just look at them to get an insight into the ‘trace’ of the original owners and current owners. So how can I feel so connected to my emails if I can’t touch them?

I’m not sure what the answer is here. I often worry that the photographs and conversations on Facebook will be lost and I won’t have the opportunity to look back and reflect when that urge takes me at some point in the future. I’ve been on Facebook for a few years now and I haven’t yet felt the urge to rehash conversations. I do, however, occasionally browse my photographs and reminisce. This leads me to thinking that the Facebook conversations are just that, conversations and they mirror real conversations had with friends, and it is the photographs and emails that are the possessions I want to keep (I have 30,000 messages in my inbox).

The virtual possessions that I want to keep are those that I could turn into physical possessions if I wanted to: emails and photographs. I don’t want to turn those that mirror conversations had in the real world into physical possessions. Perhaps that is where the key to this issue lies. It is only the possessions that have some sense of physicality that we treasure.

Yet, until we print them, we still can’t touch them.



Carnegie Mellon University, 2011, ‘Virtual possessions have powerful hold on teenagers, researches say’. Reprinted in Science Daily 10 May. Available from: [last accessed 21 June 2015]

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