Many years ago I once read a magazine article about some children living in a very poor village. They didn’t have the luxurious plush-toys or the sophisticated talking birds that we had in the West. What they did have was old metal coat-hangers. So they would bend and mould the coathangers into various new shapes and designs, for example, a toy car.
This got me thinking about how many items in our everyday life can be repurposed – altered a drastically (or just slightly) to serve a different purpose than what they were originally intended for.
You could take a television that you watch passively, attach a processor of some kind (say, an Atari), and attach an input device (say, a joystick) and, all of a sudden, it has become an interactive gaming experience.
Repurposing can also occur in the intangible, “digital” space. You can dig into your email history, find something that was sent by a colleague or coworker or friend or someone else you know, and that message, which was meant for one purpose, could be re-purposed to serve a totally new purpose. There’s nothing stopping you from taking that entire email, perhaps tweaking a few words in the body and changing the subject line, and sending it to someone else, for a totally new purpose.
We have incredibly sophistocated tools now, enabling us to repurpose practically any kind of digital asset. We can use graphics editors to manipulate bitmap images, vector graphics editors to manipulate drawings, video editors to manipulate video, specialised content editing tools to manipulate pieces of text, all the way through to sophistocated algorithmic modelling tools that can manipulate mathematical matrices.
Repurposing is much easier with digital items, and we can think of the assets we own and/or have access to (e.g. email, chat and text histories, social media profiles, documents, audio/video footage, online resources, even physical items such as advertising/marketing you see in the space around you) as fields and fields of space, containing potential gold or diamonds buried underneath.
If you happen to encounter some asset or artifact that serves its purpose very well in one context, consider how you might repurpose it to serve well in a totally different context.
The ideas presented in this article draw some inspiration from Silicon Valley, such as the history of Slack as recounted by Steward Butterfield.