“From Stuff to Story”

Great dinner at Jaipur (847 West Randolph) and conversation tonight with the Chicago Overlap crew for the occasion of Shel Kimen visiting Chicago. Shel Kimen made an interesting turn of phrase early in the night. She talked about “from stuff to story” when she was talking about her work in Detroit.

That phrase “from stuff to story” captured my imagination. I couldn’t stop thinking about it all dinner long.I kept repeating it over and over. When I got home I Googled it. Guess what – not a single reference. “No results found for “from stuff to story”.” My ears tingle when I  find something I can’t find a Google result for a phrase.

Why haven’t people written that phrase? Why haven’t they thunk that thought?

People think the story comes first and then stuff comes from that. That first someone has to talk about something before it can come into the world.

I heard Shel’s phrase as a affirmation of “stuff first.” Naming and stories and labels comes afterwards.

It brought to mind the difference between labels and labeling, between names and naming. (From “Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences by Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star)

Going “From Stuff to Story” makes it harder for stories to make and keep categories invisible and gives us a fresh way to examine and see our built information environment. Stories are the scaffolding of information infrastructures that surround our stuff. So I think I will give it a try to work “from stuff to story” for awhile and see what happens. 😉


Shel Kimen

Awake the Company

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