The future is often portrayed in films as sleek and clean, with no stuff visible. In the streamlined house of The Jetsons (animated cartoon from the 1960s), you see rounded chairs and a giant screen as the only furnishings. In one scene, the kids have small records, in another, you see a couple of books standing on an end table. I like, at least, that the creators of the show still saw books in the future. The spaceship in the film The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy looks sterile as well. The movie, Blade Runner is an exception: the world is full of gritty streets, abandoned buildings, and discarded stuff. Futuristic books such as Neuromancer by William Gibson also have plenty of interesting stuff. As makers, stuff is our food. Maybe all the stuff is in closets and drawers and we just can't see it. But when we can't see the stuff in our own lives, how does it affect us?
Our future of the sleek and hidden is already here. Our electronics generate music, connections, opportunities, and mixed feelings. The impact of hidden stuff is surprising. We have to scroll through lists or forget what we own. E-readers hide the books away. MP3s hide the music. Phones and tablets hide the games and puzzles. We love that these are now so portable. But I started imagining a future like the Jetsons' where we might enter a friend's house and see nothing of her inside. When she gets up to offer us tea we don't get to browse the bookshelf or the CD rack. Maybe we already know everything from a social network page. Okay, a change. Good? Bad? Different.
Recently, when my wanderer was home, I noticed how stuff reactivated old activities. She started the crossword puzzle; I saw it out and did some, too. Her dad opened a 1000 piece puzzle and we all worked on it. Whenever one of us walked by the stuff, s/he was reminded of it and took interest in it. I already know that I do that with a bag of cookies, but leaving stuff out can also lead to something positive.
Thinking about how we are susceptible to suggestion, I was reminded of one of my favorite topics: accessibility. Whether it is for those with special needs, children in elementary school or for artmakers, for example, having stuff available—having tools available—and visible are important to learning and making. If you can't get at it, you can't do it.
If you are ever have trouble tackling a project, start by putting the pieces where you can see them. I store my supplies in see-through bins so I can glance down a stack and know immediately what is inside. It's like a list, but better; it's visual. Better if I can keep the project out on a table so I can handle the pieces and get the information from my fingertips. I find I am actively reminded to work on the project when I can see it or feel it, and I can constantly keep it cooking inside my head that way, too.
By turning on a device and scrolling through lists we have to made choices constantly. Having physical objects, books, newspapers with crossword puzzles, and puzzles with solid, tangible pieces accessible means we don't have to continually decide what to look for. We are reminded of the activity every time we see the stuff. The barriers are gone. Our hands reach out. We can just begin. And keep going. The future is right in front of us.