The Way Out: Rewriting Wayfinding Design in the Digital Age
This is a snippet from the essay “Sticky Agency,” one of four essays in Anja’s applied thesis portfolio.
I am walking down the street, and my right foot suddenly comes to a halt. Someone else’s discarded pink, goooooey, bubble gum is stuck to the sole of my shoe. Disgusted, I look down at my boot hopeful that I can just ignore this whole sticky encounter. But to my dismay, it looks worse than I anticipated. While fighting the sticky resistance, I lift my boot and bend over to assess the situation. A string of gum marks my movement. Feeling nauseated, I quickly place my foot back down and decide that I will just ignore the gum’s existence. I try to take a few steps forward, but it gets messier as I move. I realize that I have to interact with the gum to make it go away. I stop again and look for a tissue. Tissue in hand I grab the goopy gum. I pull the gum, I pull it again, and again, and again. Finally cleared from all the gumminess, I lower my shoe. I carefully dodge the pink remnants on the sidewalk and find my way to the closest trash can. A lot of work for a little piece of gum.
When a substance is sticky, it is not a liquid, but it is also not a solid. It does move, but with difficulty. It does get stuck, but can be pulled away. It can be molded, but molded into what? Gunk, goo, goop—are words associated with being sticky. Gum, glue, gel—are substances that are sticky. But don’t always look sticky. Yet, they feel sticky.
Sticky agency—a neologism I created. A strange term, you might say. What does it mean? Can I find its meaning in a dictionary? Sticky—“tending or designed to stick to things on contact.”¹ Agency—“action or intervention producing a particular effect.”² The dictionary does bring us a step closer. But by agency I mean an individual’s ability to make their own choices and act independently often during some form of interaction. So, you might ask: is sticky agency an act, intervention, or interaction tending or designed to stick? You are getting warmer.
But the thing is to grasp sticky agency it cannot merely be defined or written on paper. It is not a tangible substance like toffee that I can hold in my hand or touch with my fingers. It has to be observed to know it exists. It has to be felt to be understood. In the public realm, sticky agency occurs when we wayfind every day, every hour, every minute. It impacts where we go and where we don’t go. Who we choose to see and who we choose to avoid. What artifacts we use and what artifacts we don’t use. That evergreen bush in the privately owned public space that makes the plaza look beautiful, but is just slightly too high to make the place feel inviting.³ That steel bench in the park that looks futuristic and modern with the intricate empty slots between the steel, but designed to be uncomfortable and devoid of human contact.
¹ Oxford English Dictionaries, s.v. “sticky,” accessed April 7, 2018, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/sticky.
² Oxford English Dictionaries, s.v. “agency,” accessed April 7, 2018, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/agency.
³ Manuel Miranda, in conversation with the author, January 24, 2018.