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Disposing of Things
Separation of Functions
Imagine you're reading a newspaper. You find an article that has some useful information in it, so you want to save it for future reference … but then you think of a friend who'd like to see the article, so you also want to send it to ver. What would you do? Most likely you'd just do one thing and forget the other; but if you were determined, you might take the article to a photocopier, make a copy, and do both … and that's what separation of functions is all about.
Let me spell it out in abstract form.
- Objects have various functions. Some objects have more than one, some have none at all, but most have one intended function.
- Function implies location. That article can't carry its information to your friend if it's buried in a pile of papers on your desk.
- Thus, when an object has more than one function, it needs to be in more than one place at the same time, which is problematic.
- To solve the problem, separate the functions. If you can obtain enough equivalent objects, you can divide up the work so that each object has just one function to perform.
That's really all there is to it … everything else I have to say is just elaboration and additional examples. I'll start with some comments on the same four points.
- Objects have functions, yes, but the functions aren't intrinsic to the objects, they're relative to whoever is making use of them. I gave that away when I said that most objects have one intended function … intended by whom? (The agent doesn't even have to be human.)
As a result, the problem of multiple functions can arise when an object has different functions to different people. As kids, my sisters and I were always taking my mom's scissors out of her desk drawer and leaving them in places that we found more useful.
To say that most objects have only one function is an oversimplification. Any given object can be used in any number of ways, it's just that some ways are less probable, or are only invoked in particular circumstances. So, it might be best to say that most objects have only one dominant, or primary, function.
- The idea that function implies location reminds me of a saying that I like.
A place for everything, and everything in its place.
Function doesn't always imply location. If an object has several functions that are equally important, you might end up putting it in its own special place, unrelated to the places where it's used … think of a tool drawer or workshop.
Even better, think of a toolbox or toolkit. A toolkit is a place for tools, but it can also move around … a mobile place! It's also interesting to me how a toolkit acts to group the tools.
On the other hand, if those equally-important functions are too important, putting the object in a special place doesn't solve anything, it just creates more of a nuisance. If you had to use a tool to turn lights on and off, you certainly wouldn't keep it hidden in a toolbox.
- A physical object can't be in more than one place at the same time, but an information object can. I'll save the rest of that thought for a footnote.
- If you can find enough equivalent objects, you can separate the functions … but what objects count as equivalent? Consider that newspaper article again. A photocopy is a good general-purpose equivalent object, but it's not perfect. If a color photograph was a key part of the article, you might need to buy another copy of the newspaper. If you wanted to analyze the paper microscopically to see how old it was, a photocopy would be no good at all, but even a small piece of the original would do just fine. And, if you wanted to use the article as tinder for a fire, a photocopy would do fine … but so would a handful of dry leaves.
A photocopy is equivalent to the original object in some cases, but not in others; therefore, whether an object is equivalent doesn't depend solely on what the original object is, but also on what function the object is supposed to perform. An object is equivalent if and only if it can perform the same function.
Disposing of Things
Footnote (Separation of Functions)
How I Cleaned My Room
@ May (2007)