Tangible can serve as both an adjective and a noun. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the adjective tangible as something that is “capable of being touched” or “affecting the sense of touch; touchable”. It can also mean “material, externally real objective”. The noun tangible is defined as “a thing that may be touched; something material or objective”. The noun holds a second definition, meaning “That can be laid hold of or grasped by the mind, or dealt with as a fact; that can be realized or shown to have substance; palpable”. A tangible property or form can be “discerned or discriminated by the sense of touch”. Tangible assets are “physical and material assets which can be precisely valued or measured”.
Tangible comes from the Latin words ‘tangibilis’ meaning “that may be touched” and ‘tangere’, meaning, “to touch”.
The idea of tangibility and existence dates back to the Bible. In the book of John, Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, refuses to believe that Jesus has been resurrected from the dead. As proof, he asks to feel Jesus’ wounds from being nailed on the cross. It is not until he has the opportunity to feel them that he professes his faith in Jesus as the Son of God. Today, the expression of a “Doubting Thomas” refers to someone who requires physical proof or evidence for validation.
Our materialistic society is preoccupied with this concept of tangibility. If we cannot see it, touch it or interact with it in some way, it does not exist. Built objects can be touched, and we therefore perceive them as being very real. Architecture is built from materials and is physically real; people directly interact with a building as they go about their daily lives. When architecture no longer becomes something physical, people doubt its ability to influence people.
For example, the German artist Michaela Meliàn was commissioned to create a memorial that recognized the people that were subjected to Nazi terror in Munich during World War II. As the city of Munich had not set aside a location for the memorial, she decided to put her piece online, rather than have it be a physical monument. Using the stories of Nazi victims, she wanted to create a memorial through an aural structure, rather than a physical one. Her idea was met with skepticism, as people did not believe a non-tangible memorial held any levity.
Our perceptions of tangibility and exitence, however, are beginning to change with the emergence of the Internet. The Internet has become a non-physical interface for us to interact with the tangible world. Previously, if something was intangible, it did not exist, it could not hold any sort of monetary, intellectual or societal value. Money is exchanged without ever being seen or touched, and ideas are shared fluidly without boundaries. We can communicate with others without speaking to them face-to-face. As technology develops, so will our interpretations of tangibility. Eventually we may live in a world where the physical presence of something no longer defines whether or not it is real.
--Ella den Elzen
Meliàn, Michaela. Memory Loops. November 20, 2012. http://www.memoryloops.net/de#!/start/
"tangible, adj. and n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/197491?redirectedFrom=tangible (accessed November 21, 2012).