What can you tell about a person from the objects they touch? Paula Zuccotti is exploring the power of product
The idea for Paula’s book Everything We Touch: A 24 Hour Inventory of Our Lives, came largely out of her work as a trend forecaster, she’s spent 15 years looking at objects and discussing product for clients. But when she first started in the industry those conversations originally focused on product and product alone. “Back then clients would ask me about consumer behaviour around Hi-Fi stereos and DVD players- but now they want to know about the future of entertainment rather than product,” she explains. Conversations about which lamps consumers might like have switched to talk about the future of lighting.
Yet despite this move towards bigger buying themes rather than product alone, Paula was convinced that people still love things, and so she set about trying to discover what she could learn about a person from what they touched.
Spanning 62 people around the world, Paula asked the cross section of people (from a cowboy in Tucson to a tattoo artist in Melbourne) to collect all the things they touched in a single day, and she photographed the items, before compiling them together in her book.
“It was interesting because the first thing I noticed was music, people don’t touch music anymore, in fact the only people with tangible music was my mother with her CD’s and Claire from California who played her Fleetwood Mac vinyl’s,” says Paula.
Without personalised mixtapes and CDs to give her an idea of her subjects, she had to look for other signs about their personalities. But even something as simple as a laptop has a different meaning now. “It used to symbolise work, but it has replaced the remote control now, so it could also mean that this person streams TV shows all day,” says Paula.
Another interesting point she realised as she travelled was that the subjects themselves despite living in different parts of the globe and having different jobs, were very similar.
“There are fewer geographical differences now, and in fact if you take away the odd Coca Cola sign, and the local market bought items like Moroccan body scrubs, everything else was very similar, so many people wore the same brands: Uniqlo t-shirts, Vans shoes and H&M tops,” says Paula.
The exercise wasn’t just interesting for Paula, the subjects of her book also found out some unexpected things via the exercise.
“Their reaction was very interesting because sometimes we are very conscious of what we’re purchasing, like a nice handbag or expensive coat, but other things we hide, like our slippers. But when you put that bag at the same level as your water bottle or your slippers, it becomes a very honest X-ray of who you are”, Paula explains.
Photo credit: Corina Bankhead and c/o Everything We Touch published by Penguin out 12 November 2015.
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