Common Read Experience

2013 Common Read

Know Thy Stuff: The Meaning of Objects in Our Lives

Sherry Turkle's Evocative Objects.

Humans are needy. We need things: objects, keepsakes, items, stuff, tokens, knickknacks, bit and pieces, junk and treasures. We carry special objects in our pockets and purses, place them on shelves in our homes and offices, and from time to time bring them out and look at them, touch them, listen to them, smell them. Our objects mark special times and places. They serve as mementos from the past, goals for the future, and points of connection to others: friends, heroes, lovers, and ancestors.

Objects also help tell the story of who we are. MIT Psychologist Sherry Turkle says in her 2011 book, Evocative Objects (Cambridge, MIT Press), "We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with." And Walt Whitman begins one of his well-loved poems,

There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day,
or for many years, or stretching cycles of years... (Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1900.)

The theme of the 2012 Common Reading Experience centers around the objects that make us who we are, on the objects we have come to love. From teddy bears to technology, blankets to basketballs, clothes to cameras, we identify ourselves in and through the objects we own and engage. Through a common reading, supplemented by lectures, exhibitions, gatherings, and imbedded into courses, we will embark on an investigation of the "stuff" of our lives.