The Medium and the Message
This is cellphone keyboard fabric I found at a Nashville textile store. When I first saw it, I made a crack about it being “for all your mobile-technology-upholstery needs.” But joking aside, this fabric raises a deceptively simple question: Why? Or put less succinctly: Oh dear God, why does this exist?
I think the most basic answer is that there’s fabric for just about anything. Near this bolt, you could also find woven cotton covered in sewing machines, mustaches, cat paws, scissors, serving spoons, and more. These fabrics serve to signal, quickly and without much grace, an interest (cats, hipster facial hair, crafting, cooking, etc., etc.). The shouted message: “I like _________!”
At the same time, there’s something especially peculiar about this print’s fragmented, partial representation. The sewing machine fabric didn’t only show feed dogs, and the mustache print was more than follicles. So why is this one only keyboards? In part, sure, they’re synecdochal. But I think what this fabric really does is signal, a bit awkwardly, what may really be at stake, or of interest, in a certain kind of mobile technology* for many of its users. For those users, the point isn’t the contraption. The point that the contraption makes possible a sort-of-new version of a really (really!) old task: communicating with other humans. It’s not technologies themselves, in other words. It’s the meaning that technologies help—but only help—to make.
*Note, by the way, that this fabric appears to pre-date in origins, but post-date in production and sale, the widespread adoption of smartphones, most of which don’t have keyboards like either of the ones represented here. Which raises another question: How would you, in this medium, represent a touchscreen?