What determines if an object is meaningful?


My idea is to 3D print a tchotchke.  I was first inspired by the sign in the Computer Applications Lab above the 3D printers that reads “No Tchotchkes.”  Following this rule, I am not able to print most of the things that I really want to.  I question why we aren’t allowed to 3D print tchotchkes.  Does anything exist that is actually pointless, meaningless, valueless, and functionless?  I don’t think so.  I believe everything has some sort of meaning or value, regardless of how apparent it might be.

One thing about tchotchkes or trinkets is that one rarely buys them for oneself.  They are usually given or received as gifts.  When anything is given as a gift, it is automatically assigned meaning.  When I was 6 years old, I was given a Starbucks temporary tattoo by a relative who was visiting from across the country.  This was the first time I had ever met this relative, and I haven’t seen them since.  I thought they were the coolest person in the world, and I held on to that tattoo for as long as I could.  My dad asked me if I was going to put the tattoo on, and when I told him I wasn’t, he wanted me to throw it away, but I didn’t want to.  I didn’t care at all about what the tattoo meant to anyone else, or what its intended use was.  I didn’t drink coffee, I had no special affinity for temporary tattoos.  What mattered to me was that someone had been thoughtful enough to give it to me.  I don’t even remember the name of my relative or how I am even related to them now.  I would say that at this point, the idea of that temporary Starbucks tattoo means more to me than that relative does.  I don’t think that a giver even has to put a lot of thought, if any at all, into a gift for it to have a ton of meaning.  The children I work with will give me their artwork, and I highly suspect that a lot of these gifts come from a loss of interest in the activity and the need to get rid of the mess left behind.  This doesn’t make the art mean any less to me though.  One child gave me an empty envelope and I still hung it up on my wall.  That being said, a gift has the potential to have a great amount of intended meaning that might not be known to anyone but the giver and receiver of the gift.

There is also great meaning in objects that one can make for themselves.  We know a lot about making from reading the Maker Movement Manifesto, and how it just feels good to make things.  If you make something, I think that automatically assigns meaning to whatever it is that you make.  Even if the object turns out nothing like you wanted it to, it still means something that you made it.  When I was younger I attempted to make a cereal bowl that looked like a turtle out of clay.  It turned out totally non-functional and vaguely turtle-like.  Even though it’s pretty ugly, I have still kept it all this time.  Just because I made it.  Also possible with creating something for yourself is intentionally making something that has meaning embedded in the design of the object, whether apparent to all, or just the creator.

I intend to to print two objects, one to gift, and one to keep for myself.  I don’t have any ideas of what these objects might be, look like, or mean at this point, but I don’t intend for the meaning to be apparent.  They will have meaning.

Meaning in an object might not be apparent to more than one person.  I think this idea is important because even if an object is only impacting one single person, I think it is still worthwhile for this object to exist.

I was unable to find material on the meaning of seemingly pointless items, but I did find that there has been some movement against tchotchkes in the professional world.  There have been moves in the pharmaceutical industry to ban tchotchkes as a form of marketing. (Iskowitz; Pharmaguy, That’s Snot Funny!)  This brings up an interesting point that tchotchkes can serve a very blunt purpose by being used by companies to “offer clients an effective and efficient way to build loyalty to their brands.” (Pharmaguy, May Ban Tchotchkes)

I think this is worth studying for this quarter because exploring how and why objects hold meaning could be very useful.  Discovering and sharing how meaning can apply to one might change perspectives on we view seemingly meaningless objects.  Perhaps I will be able to use my learning to get the “No Tchotchkes” sign removed.


Works Cited

Iskowitz, Mark. “U-Pittsburgh Med Center Weighs Tchotchke Ban.” – Medical Marketing & Media. Medical Marketing & Media, 1 Aug. 2007. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Pharmaguy. “Pharma Marketing Blog: Duluth Bans Tchotchkes — That’s Snot Funny!” Pharma Marketing Blog: Duluth Bans Tchotchkes — That’s Snot Funny! Pharma Marketing Network, 8 Jan. 2008. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Pharmaguy. “Pharma Marketing Blog: EU Pharma Industry May Ban “Tchotchkes” Outright! Tchotchke Makers Threaten to Sue.” Pharma Marketing Blog: EU Pharma Industry May Ban “Tchotchkes” Outright! Tchotchke Makers Threaten to Sue. Pharma Marketing Network, 9 July 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.