Judea Faith


Power Plug's Power Play

Thinking about power relations through the unified socket

The unified socket (2018)

The unified socket (2018)

If power and electricity is something we all share, why shouldn’t it be disseminated into a common language of use? The more we look at the multitude of different power socket design, the more ridiculous it seems for the world to have so many kinds. We have come a long way from gaslights and steam-powered generators. Why stop there? Beyond the logistical inconvenience of having need to own so many, the difference in socket design may also suggest underlying power relations amongst nations and states. In our globalising world, there is a need to start thinking about country-to-country compatibilitya. 

Today, we are stuck with 15 different styles of sockets as a result of national preference and pride. The letters are assigned to reduce confusion, but do not actually refer to standards of any kind. So why the need for so many! This design proposes a unified socket that draws its references from the currently universal USB socket design. It is multifunctional as a single USB and as a tri-USB socket, preserving the initial qualities of an earth, neutral and live wire in a plug. It is a speculative take on the power relations between the power plug and power play, provoking us into thinking about the possibility of unity in power. 

There were actually early efforts to standardise the plug by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) through a new socket design (Type N). However, they were unfortunately drowned out during the World Wars. When Brazil, the first early adopter, agreed to use Type N sockets for their power grids, Thailand deemed it necessary and designed a whole new socket system on its own, incompatible with the rest of it all. Type N now becomes exclusively used only in Brazil. Political, economical and social issues like these continued to acts as a preventive measure for the realisation of this ideal. 

Electricity is essentially the lifeblood of cities, and will continue to be as the future of science and technology develops. ‘Without a stable supply of electricity, everything comes to a stop.’ (Townsend, 2013) It is the mega power behind the complex structure of the internet and power grids. To think something this complex to be a ubiquitous part of our homes, so familiar, so mundane that we hardly notice, and so political in hiding. Townsend continues to envision the future of cities to transition away from wires, drawing instead upon ‘sensors, computers and communication networks scattered across the cloud.’ Adopting a unified plug has nothing to do with settling for the standards of another nation, but it is a medium for countries to agree to disagree for the sake of a more unified kind of humanity.

Townsend, A. M. (2013) Smart Cities. Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc.
Viswanathan, B. (2017) Why Do Different Countries Use Different Plugs?: Huffpost. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-do-different-countries-use-different-plugs_us_59963fd1e4b02eb2fda31e85 (Accessed: 8 March 2018).


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