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Dead medium: Chindogu
From: (Bruce Sterling)
Source(s): 99 MORE UNUSELESS JAPANESE INVENTIONS: The Art of Chindogu Original photography, concept and source material by Kenji Kawakami Original and translated text by Dan Papia WW Norton & Company New York London 1997
ISBN 0-393-31743-9

(((bruces remarks: Although the International Chindogu Society is not restricted to ludicrous inventions in the field of media, necronauts may enjoy their work because their sensibility is rather like ours. I especially recommend the Chindogu "battery-free mobile phone" == which consists of a couple of stethescopes linked by several yards of clear plastic tubing.)))

"The art of Chindogu was born in the late 1980's when editor, designer, cartoon writer and amateur inventor Kenji Kawakami discovered that a not-quite-usable idea for a new gadget or product could nonetheless be enjoyable if one were to create a prototype and take delight in the way it misses its mark. Chindogu is an internationally embraced discipline which celebrates the creation of 'almost useful' inventions and 'inconvenient conveniences.' (...)

"That said, however, weUd like to caution the silly invention enthusiast that Chindogu is not for everyone. To be a chindoguist, one must be able to exercise the self discipline of approaching the inventive process with a certain spirit of wit and anarchy but fully divorced from all notions of patenting , marketing and entrepreneurism.

"P R I M E R

"To date, four books on Chindogu have been published in Japanese and the International Chindogu Society boasts a membership of over 11,000.

"The term 'Chindogu' entered the English vocabulary in 1991 when then senior Society member Dan Papia (president of Chindogu Society America) published an article on the subject in JapanUs leading English-language magazine, the Tokyo Journal.

"Following this the Society was besieged with interested inquiries from around the world" (...).


"Every Chindogu is an almost useless object, but not every almost useless object is a Chindogu. In order to transcend the realms of the merely almost useless and join the ranks of the of the really almost useless, certain vital criteria must be met. It is these criteria, a set of ten vital tenets that define the gentle art and philosophy of Chindogu.

"1 .A Chindogu cannot be for real use.

"It is fundamental to the spirit of Chindogu that inventions claiming Chindogu status must be, from a practical point of view, (almost) completely useless. If you invent something which turns out to be so handy that you use it all the time, then you have failed to make a Chindogu. Try the patent office.

"2. A Chindogu must exist.

"YouUre not allowed to use a Chindogu, but it must be made. You have to be able to hold it in your hand and think: 'I can actually imagine someone using this. Almost.' In order to be useless, it must first be.

"3. Inherent in every Chindogu is the spirit of anarchy.

"Chindogu are man-made objects that have broken free from the chains of usefulness. They represent freedom of thought and action: the freedom to challenge the suffocating historical dominance of conservative utility; the freedom to be (almost) useless.

"4. Chindogu are tools for every day life.

"Chindogu are a form of nonverbal communication understandable to everyone, everywhere. Specialized or technical inventions, like a three- handled sprocket loosener for drainpipes centered between two under-the sink cabinet door (the uselessness of which will only be appreciated by plumbers), do not count.

"5. Chindogu are not for sale.

"Chindogu are not tradable commodities. If you accept money for one you surrender your purity. They must not even be sold as a joke.

"6. Humor must not be the sole reason for creating a Chindogu.

"The creation of Chindogu is fundamentally a problem-solving activity. Humor is simply the by-product of finding an elaborate or unconventional solution to a problem that may not have been that pressing to begin with.

"7. Chindogu is not propaganda.

"Chindogu are innocent. They are made to be used, even though they cannot be used. They should not be created as a perverse or ironic comment on the sorry state of mankind.

"8. Chindogu are never taboo.

"The International Chindogu Society has established certain standards of social decency. Cheap sexual innuendo, humor of a vulgar nature, and sick or cruel jokes that debase the sanctity of living things are not allowed.

"9. Chindogu cannot be patented.

"Chindogu are offerings to the rest of the world == they are not therefore ideas to be copyrighted, patented, collected and owned. As they say in Spain, mi Chindogu es tu Chindogu.

"10. Chindogu are without prejudice.

"Chindogu must never favor one race or religion over another. Young and old, male and female, rich and poor == all should have a free and equal chance to enjoy each and every Chindogu."

Bruce Sterling (