way a designer intended, they may not “subscribe to the inscriptions.”20 People can simply refuse to use a product, “or use it selectively and even in novel and unexpected ways.”21 Depending on different contexts a product can even take on multiple identities and be interpreted in very different ways.
Ihde uses the term “multistability” to describe the phenomenon of one product being used successfully in multiple different ways based on context. The word implies that products “can have different meanings in different contexts, but also that specific goals can be technologically realized in different ways by a range of artifacts.”22 Verbeek uses the telephone and typewriter as examples of multistability since they were “not developed as communication and writing technologies but as equipment for the blind and hard of hearing to help those individuals hear and write.”23 The formation of a new stable state for a product is dependent on the original inscriptions put in place by a designer, the interpretation of the product by a user, and on the form of the product itself, “which can evoke emergent forms of mediation.”24 How does the concept of multistability fit in it with design being a moral activity? Alternative stable states are so context dependent that designers may have trouble anticipating them. Should designers encourage or discourage alternative uses of a product? Multistability reinforces the idea that products are only de ined through actual use, which happens in varied and changing contexts; they must be “interpreted and appropriated by their users”25 before they are identi ied as being used “for doing something,”26 thus their mediating influence, their scripts and technological intentionalities, are
Verbeek, What Things Do, 161.
Verbeek, Materializing Morality, 365.