He looks around to make sure no one is watching him and sets the phone down next to the boxes of cheese. The little silver telephone fits the spot strangely well. It looks as though it has always been sitting there. Having left Shirakawa’s hand, it is now part of the 7-Eleven.
–Haruki Murakami, After Dark
Murakami’s novel After Dark (2007) seems a fitting place to begin a paper on shopping for a pervasive computing workshop in Japan. In it, the author chronicles a startling series of events that occur between 11:56pm to 6:52am on a typical night in Tokyo. Murakami’s main character, a salaryman-cum-murderer, hides the evidence of his evil deed by tossing a bag of clothing belonging to a Chinese prostitute into the garbage behind a 7-Eleven before going in to buy some milk. While inside, he gets rid of the girl’s cell phone by tucking it into the cheese aisle.
What is it about these objects, in particular, packaged consumer products and technological devices, which allow them to occupy adjacent spaces so easily without being noticed? As Murakami points out, “The little silver telephone fits the spot strangely well. It looks as though it has always been sitting there.” What would these objects say to us if they could talk? This paper examines the secret lives of objects by drawing on my own relationship to shopping and, in the context of the current economic and environmental crises, offers examples of the ways in which ubiquitous and pervasive computing technologies might introduce a new conversation with products, technologies and objects.