Byung-Chul Han concludes his 2022 book Non-things with an essay about jukeboxes. The short book is an affirmation of the value of physical objects—“things”—in a world that is constantly trying, often successfully, to reduce those objects to pure information, or “non-things.” The jukebox coda ends the discussion on a pleasantly concrete note (which is fitting for a book that celebrates the specificity and embodiment of material objects). I won’t rehash its overall argument but suffice to say Non-things articulates a lot of what I find myself trying to describe here, and will likely come up again now that I’ve read it.
Han describes his impulsive purchase of a hulking jukebox, built in the 1950s “silver age” of jukebox design, in a Berlin antique shop. The machine’s ridiculous, impractical placement in Han’s sparsely furnished home is justified by its status as a thing with an intense presence that enchants its surroundings. Han’s description of his apartment evokes the iconic 1982 photo of Steve Jobs sitting on the floor of his house drinking tea, accompanied only by a record player and Tiffany lamp. That photo, in its fetishization of the few objects it depicts, foreshadows the domestic minimalism that iPhones and similar devices would enable. Jobs arguably did more to accelerate the virtualization of physical things than any other individual in history—and as Han himself writes, a smartphone is less a thing than an anti-thing: “The material aspect of the smartphone recedes, and information takes its place; the materiality of the smartphone is not perceived in its own right…We look through them into the infosphere.”