Shop Notes: We Are the Spaces We Occupy

While my interpretation and analysis of space differ from the methodologies set forth by Kenneth Ames, I attempt to think about my object in space as something that is acted upon by that space. I thought that finding information about the factories in and around Shenzhen in the Guangdong province would be hard. Imagine my surprise when I found multiple videos, all of electronics factory tours. The first, below, is from 2012, but there are longer and more in-depth videos that are more recent.

Thinking about the factory space, what is interesting here is how the products (in the case of the first video, the product is simply laptops, in the second video, which shows the same factory, the company has added in the complexity of a touch-screen, which makes up a substantial portion of the video) move throughout it and how the space speaks to their value. There is a considerable amount of complexity added between the two products, and the issue of dust particles makes the making process more complex. But the products move through the space with a layer of importance attached to them that is both strange and mechanized, as well as monetary.

In these factory spaces, the product could perhaps be seen only as important as its price on the market or, more realistically, how much the product contributes to the paycheck of the worker. The city of Shenzhen is the site of rapid industrial growth, both for good and for ill. It’s been named ‘the Silicon Valley of hardware,’ but there are a number of meanings behind this. First is the obvious fact that there are myriad electronics and hardware factories in the city. In terms of volume, Shenzhen produces a massive proportion of the electronics hardware that comes out of Chin and the Guangdong province. Second is the city’s parallel relationship to Silicon Valley, something that can also be seen represented in my drawing tablet. While most software is programmed and produced in Silicon Valley, the hardware that operates that software is overwhelmingly produced in and around Shenzhen. For example, the XP-Pen software is developed out of California, specifically the larger Silicon Valley area, while the tablets themselves are constructed and shipped from Shenzhen.

What does this mean for the value of the product inhabiting the factory space, though? We have to first also think about the ways in which hardware production has been devalued. The video below explains more about Moore’s Law and the evolution of hardware development, but one of the more critical points is that, as Moore’s Law was accepted as the general and inevitable ‘way of things,’ hardware development firms realized that spending massive amounts of time and money on the streamlining of hardware was, in the end, more costly than they wanted to pay. The development of software took precedent, while hardware development was shipped elsewhere, to economies where labor was cheaper. Which is part of the reason Shenzhen has grown so exponentially, with barely the memory of the original fishing village left behind.

In the factory space, the technology and hardware produced has a specific value that is tied to its marketability and the exchange of labor for pay. The alienation of the labor from the ultimate price is a substantial issue here, but one that, perhaps, can be expanded upon later. When the product, specifically my drawing tablet leaves the factory space, however, it transforms. The drawing tablet has a role and identity that depends upon its use in its new context. My tablet is not representative of all others, but in the space of my office, it becomes an object of creation, tied both to its economic value and its value in a hobby setting. It is both tied to leisure and to production, a very different relation and identity than it had in the factory space.

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