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Back Pocket in the Front: An Exploration of Modularity

modular banana

Make a module. This is the kind of assignment that is always better in retrospect (as this tardy write-up can attest).

Thinking about modules and the arenas in which they frequently appear led me to some interesting insights, not the least of which was a clear idea of the connector I want to build this coming week.

A module encapsulates a functionality within some larger, more complicated system. When properly designed, it can be joined smoothly with existing modules of the same or different types. Modular furniture, trains, pre-fab architecture, object-oriented programming, modulated and demodulated data streams, toys, and space stations are all modular because modularity makes decorating, managing freight, building, coding, communicating, playing, and not dying in a vacuum easier and less error prone, even in the presence of significant future uncertainty. Think back to Powers of Ten—the entire universe is modular!

I started my exploration of modularity by making modules of something homogeneous, which if my notions above are true achieves no added efficiency or ease through modularization. I peeled and sliced a banana such that the slices could be interchanged within the peel. Then I ate it. Not quite the robustness I was aiming for.

I then toyed with creating a code-based exploration of image pixels and letters (by translating one into the other so that an email might be encoded as an image composed of apparently arbitrary pixels), but the spatial advantages of modularity were just too compelling to ignore. You can place a modular couch in a space of any shape! Have a corner? It wraps around it! Straight wall? It becomes a love seat for twenty!

But how does one modularize without atomizing, without simply breaking something big into identical smaller segments? By separating functions the way code does. For some reason, I immediately thought about clothes and those zip-off sleeves from the Eighties. Clothing’s modularity (at least wearable clothing’s) is anatomically constrained. In theory I could make pants that accept as many legs as you care to attach—fun maybe, but not so useful.

Thinking about pant legs got me thinking about the make-up of clothing more generally—and led me to pockets. Most of my pants have at least two sets of pockets: the side ones that are sewn into the garment and the back ones that are sewn on. I carry lots of stuff in my pockets and I don’t ever seem to have enough room, and I prefer the bulge of a full exterior back pocket to the chafing of a stuffed inner one, though I can’t stand carrying things around where I can’t see them and inevitably crush them when I sit too enthusiastically. The answer?

finishedback of pocket and magnet stripboxers(empty)boxers(full)

Modular magnetic pockets. They can be attached to any part of any garment using a discreet, low-profile magnetic strip (or wadded up and crazily sewn elastic as in my prototype) that lies flat along the inside and firmly attaches the pocket to the outside.

And if it’s not in use? Just put it in your pocket.

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