Blank: Winston’s new paperweight

Saburo Sakata’s USB drive can bottle your memories.

A message is scribbled onto paper. It’s rolled up into a tight scroll, lowered into a glass bottle, and corked. The bottle is thrown into the water, and for the rest of its marine life it refuses no drift, current or wave. The bottle is at the will of the ocean, prepared to become the property of whoever’s gaze finds it next.

Whether it be Theophrastus attempting to prove the Mediterranean Sea’s formation via the Pacific, or the anonymous Jonathan keeping his promise to write to Mary in 1985, the experience of writing to an unknown recipient is one of curiosity, patience and excitement, and should be on all bucket lists. The message-in-a-bottle had its time, and it seems the physical note doesn’t capture our attention anymore, so why should the message in a bottle be limited to print?

Blank: Saburo Sakata -
Blank: Saburo Sakata –

Blank is a beautiful idea, and also both fortunate and unfortunate in that much is left to the imagination with the Japanese designer’s work. Fitting with its name, Saburo Sakata hasn’t said much about the concept behind the piece, but this allows us to draw a number of interpretations. Putting it simply, blank is a 2GB USB drive manufactured in cork to be housed inside a small glass bottle, but the abstract similarity to a classic bottle at sea creates a new way to approach the idea of storage. On the first and basic level, the USB drive is temporary storage for digital media. On the second level, the bottle itself is storage for physical items that fit inside it, but the third level is the idea that the corked bottle references ageing. Blank can be considered to be a product to store memories and works to be put away for as long as the electronics can last so that the ideas within them can almost mature and age over time, and be found again as the notes are at sea.

Empty Memory 'Structure' by Logical Art -
Empty Memory ‘Structure’ by Logical Art –

Similar to Logical Art’s ‘Empty Memory’ series of USB drives, the idea of electronic storage becoming an analogy for memory preservation isn’t new, though Sakata’s work contains a more timeless element and you could argue that Empty Memory is sterile in its minimal beauty. Data is invisible, so a glass bottle suddenly makes sense. “The bottle will store your precious memory, whether it is visible or invisible.”

As beautiful as the idea is, a USB drive is a functional device and needs to work as well as it looks. The radius of the cork is unfortunately larger than the distance between the USB ports on the MacBook Air I’m currently writing with and the table it’s sitting on, so this would create a rather rocky experience. Also, a 2GB-only capacity isn’t ideal for storing a lot of media. Is this nitpicking? Probably. With Blank, it isn’t function that’s in the stoplight. “It’s a beautiful thing,” remarked Winston as he held the glass paperweight in Orwell’s 1984. Objects can exist purely to emote and be beautiful, and Blank executes this idea with charm and personality.

The eye-catching element is the challenging of a norm; what a USB drive should look like, or the non-existence of beautiful objects in a utilitarian-driven INGSOC society. A quick Pinterest search will reveal the spectrum of USB drive designs available, so unorthodox approaches are nothing new, though Blank is unique. Sakata has married a timeless tradition with personal, modern storage; an alluring combination that tempts the wallet.