On this day in 2009 a fascinating five month anthropological study was completed by two writers, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn. The hypothesis of the study was that storytelling has the power to raise the value a physical object.
To test their hypothesis the researchers acquired 100 objects at garage sales and thrift stores at a cost of no more than two dollars per object. In phase two of the study, each object was given to a writer who crafted a short, fictional story about the object. Each object was then listed for auctioned on eBay with the invented story as the item description. Walker and Glenn carefully identified each item description as a work of fiction. Based on the results of the study, the average price of an object was raised by 2,700 percent. The total cost of the purchasing the 100 objects was $128.74; the total sales on eBay reached a total of $3,612.51. For example, a duck vase purchased for $1.99 sold for $15.75. A motel room key purchased for $2.00 sold for $45.01.
Walker and Glenn compiled the results of their study, including a photo of each object along with its accompanying story, in the book Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things.
In the book the following story by Colson Whitehead yielded $71.00 for a weathered wooden mallet that was originally purchased for 33 cents:
On September 15th, 2031 at 2:35am, a temporal rift — a “tear” in the very fabric of time and space — will appear 16.5 meters above the area currently occupied by Jeffrey’s Bistro, 123 E Ivinson Ave, Laramie, WY. Only the person wielding this mallet will be able to enter the rift unscathed. If this person then completes the 8 Labors of Worthiness, he or she will become the supreme ruler of the universe.
To see additional objects and their stories, visit www.significantobjects.com.
Clearly, stories captivate our interest and attention like nothing else. Packaging both ideas and emotion in a narrative makes a powerful combination, and results of the Significant Objects Study provides us with quantitative evidence of this. As stated by Walker and Glenn, “Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively” (1).
Today’s Challenge: Junk Drawer Stories
What inventive story would you write to give value to a seemingly valueless object? Go to your junk drawer and find a physical object of little value. Then, craft a short narrative about the background of the object. If you are working with a group or class of storytellers, have a Significant Object Contest or a Significant Object Slam (SOS) to share your stories. (Common Core Writing 3 –
Quotation of the Day: There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story… don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words–the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book. -Stephen King
1-Walker, Rob and Joshua Glen. Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary Things. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2012.