At its core, phenomenology is concerned with how we make sense of the world, and the objects we use are the means by which the world reveals itself. The objects we take for granted and use every day—spoons, keyboards, doorknobs, mobile devices, books, cars, etc.—all have unique ways of revealing the world to users. Both phenomenologists and designers are keenly aware and concerned with this idea, as design, like art and technology, is a hermeneutic activity. We use design to interpret the world.
Whereas most of Heidegger’s work focused on this lofty ideal of poeisis and how technology reveals truth, contemporary philosophy of technology tends to narrow its concentration down to everyday things. Everyday objects are the means through which we understand the world, though their significance is often veiled by their everyday-ness. That is, their ubiquity leads results in a perceived lack of importance. Contemporary phenomenology and philosophy of technology and design are now attempting to bring these objects back into focus. In a certain sense, contemporary philosophy of technology and design are taking a sort of default phenomenological stance.
I will do my best to substantiate that claim throughout the remainder of this book, beginning with an examination of the relationship between things and meaning. Our ability to experience a thing is dependent on our ability to make sense of the object. Knowledge is an integral part of interactions with things. Dasein is in a constant state of making sense of its surroundings—as an active process of contextual engagement, Dasein is always reaching out to the environment and using objects to make sense of how it relates to the world. But how does one “make sense?” Klaus Krippendorff reminds us that “making sense always entails a bit of a paradox between the aim of making something new and different from what was there before, and the desire to have it make sense, to be recognizable and understandable. The former calls for innovation, while the latter calls for the reproduction of historical continuities.” So the question is whether Dasein interacts with the world and extracts meaning, or the interaction itself creates meaning. Traditional phenomenology might say that meaning exists in the world, and our active engagement is a means of interpretation. The ambiguity of “making sense,” however, urges us to also consider that interpretation is a more involved activity than simply the decoding of meaning.