More about purpose

Take four on finding a fundamental purpose for my life.

The original post is here:

I’m starting to finally believe what everyone has been telling me about purpose, that it’s a dead end road, that it’s self-important and unnecessary. Shakespeare didn’t ask whether the question was to do or not to do.

It actually crystallized for me this afternoon while reading The Design of Everyday Things, as Mr. Norman was talking about the “affordability” of objects. The purpose of an object is often linked to the things that it affords, that it makes possible. For example, a window affords looking through… it also affords breaking. In one anecdote early on in the book, he talks about how vandals were often breaking this reinforced glass barrier at a railway station. They replaced it with wood and the vandals stopped breaking it (even though it would’ve been just as easy) and instead carved stuff into it. They vandalized the barrier as the material afforded itself. The glass barrier was for breaking, the wood barrier was for carving, and even the vandals understood this.

Purpose, then, is a product of the interface… in other words, a product of the things that are easy to do versus the things that are difficult to do. The easy things are your purpose.

It’s easy to light a room with a lamp (assuming it’s a working lamp), therefore the lamp’s purpose is to light the room. Sort of a bleak view of human purpose though. It’s easy for me to continue working at Amazon, and eventually have a kid or something and buy a house… therefore that’s my purpose. I can’t think of anywhere else purpose might come from at the moment. So clearly, I have to abandon that line of thought. Anyway, I had always been more concerned about what my purpose should be… in other words, what thing should I try to make easy to do? What thing is worth doing, no matter how easy, etc. It gets so boring after a while.

Purpose is also a product of the context. The purpose of glass within the context of art is different from the purpose of glass within the context of vandalizing. So, if you have a purpose, you’re suddenly forced to be a guardian of your context. If you make glass art objects, you have to protect that context from vandals, from optomitrists, and from window-washers. But you also have to live with the knowledge that these other contexts are just as valid as your own, and that your purpose comes into serious doubt when you’re with people who aren’t like you.

My new motto, which came to me as I was falling asleep the other night, was a play on Shakespeare’s question: to be and not to be, that is the answer. Everything that you are, you should not be as well… that way you don’t take it too seriously, you don’t depend on it, the luxury of being doesn’t turn into a necessity, and you complete the create/destroy cycle in one sitting, not relying on death to close the loops on all the things you created (since that’s rather sloppy play). The loop is the goal, the aesthetic, and the anti-aesthetic, the anti-goal. Mu.

I almost think I’m okay with that.

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