Quick shout out to PSFK, who’ve “reprinted” two recent Technology Heirlooms posts of mine on their site (1 & 2). I had a blast with them last year at their very excellent Good Ideas Salon in London. Follow them on Twitter if you get a chance. They consistently find articles and trends that I see nowhere else and steal for my trends blog.
On the 10th of April I helped host a workshop session at this years Computer Human Interaction conference (known by the shorthand “CHI”) in Atlanta, Georgia, with Mike Massimi (who really did the bulk of the work), Dave Kirk and Will Odom. I’m a little late getting this out, but I thought I’d write up some thoughts about the experience, as well as use this blog post as a place to write up the notes from my breakout session during the day, which was on “artefacts”.
Workshops are run before the conference proper begins, and are a chance for groups of like minded people to get together to discuss and learn more about a topic area. Our topic was “Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at the End of Life”.
Lunch at Max Lager’s
The term HCI is getting a little outdated in this context, really. It’s a term used in our industry as shorthand for “people using technology”, although it sounds way more geeky than that. What the 11 of us who met were primarily interested in was how technology is being used, or might be used, during the difficult period towards the end of a persons life and after.
Mike Massimi’s original call for participation gives you a good sense of the themes in more detail, and the position papers we received from participants show the variety of work going on in this area. These are all downloadable from the site and worth a closer look. For example, some of the participants had studied activity on social networking sites such as Facebook after someone in a community had passed away. Others looked at how technology might make decision making easier for those approaching the end of their lives. A few papers dealt with the use of digital media in this space, from creating personal chronicles of a life, to photographing people after they had passed away. My own interest was through the work I’ve been doing on Technology Heirlooms, looking at the process of passing digital things on at the end of life.
It all sounds very morbid, but actually wasn’t. I think we had a very thoughtful, thought-provoking and insightful day, with some great discussion and some practical next steps. We spent quite a bit of time doing introductions, and giving each participant time to explain their work. It’s always great to hear first hand accounts of motivations and outcomes.
Then after lunch we did a classic post-it note exercise, developing a grouping the different themes we had picked up during the day. We found 4 themes that emerged:
- The Temporal – about the process before, during and after bereavement. Something we called the “Narrative of Dying”.
- Identity, Ethics and Social Networks – around issues of online identity. How control of someone’s online identity comes about after their death and the ethics of then managing someone else’s online presences.
- The Ethics of Research Practice – dealing specifically with how researchers should do their work sensitively in this domain.
- Artefacts – around issues of dealing with “stuff” before and after bereavement.
ARTEFACTS. PROS AND CONS.
I joined the group (consisting of Angela Riechers, Jim Kosem and Daniela Petrelli) that took on the last of these topics, on Artefacts. We really felt like this was an issue of the tension between digital and physical things, that somehow we didn’t understand what we might be losing as heirlooms shift from being ‘real’ to ‘virtual’. We decided to use the time listing out the positives of each.
There was a suspicion in our group that our relationship and sentimentality towards physical things was a generational thing. That new generations, who spent more time with the digital than the physical, wouldn’t feel the same bias as some of us towards the physical.
There was also a sense that physical things were losing their value, as they become transient and temporary holders of digital content. An example of this kind of object is a mobile phone, which is typically replaced every 14 months.
An interesting outcome of these lists are that the positives of one form of artefact are inevitably a negative for the other. And in many cases the reverse of a positive of one artefact type was a positive of the other. So, for example, the ‘uniqueness’ of a physical thing was seen as a positive – the fact that there’s only one of each physical thing makes it somehow more precious. So somehow the fact that digital things are easy to copy and therefore can’t be considered unique cheapens them. At the same time, the fact that a digital thing can be so easily duplicated is also a positive. It makes a digital thing shareable amongst family members, for example, with no arguments over ownership.
So here is the list of positive attributes of physical things:
- Physical things are unique.
- Physical things are precious.
- Physical things have a “smell” – subtle qualities of being physical.
- Physical (particularly old) things have an aesthetic that comes with time.
- Physical things have to be curated because they take up real space. You can’t keep a limitless number. They force decision making.
- Therefore, physical things have been ‘selected’, which makes them more meaningful.
- Physical things have stories associated with them about their physicality.
- Physical things get a patina through their knocks that also tell their story.
- Books exemplify a special example of the physical. They have attributes that it’s hard for the digital to match (such as browsability, portability)
- Physical things can be personalised and changed.
And here’s the positive attributes of digital things:
- Digital things do not take up space – there’s no cost associated with keeping them and they are very portable.
- We can have a serendipitous relationship with digital things that can be delightful. I can put all 60 gigabytes of my music collection on random, for example, and find songs I haven’t listened to in decades.
- Digital things can have rich interactions, motion etc.
- Digital things can be easily duplicated and shared.
- Digital things do not crumble.
- Digital things can be augmented with metadata – objects can carry their stories, for example.
And a few things we found that both shared:
- Both physical and digital things need to be maintained to make sure they persist.
- Both digital and physical things make us guilty if we don’t sort them out.
- We feel delight when we randomly come across lost or forgotten things, whether they are digital or physical.
- Both need curating, but for different reason. For physical things we need to decide what to keep in order to keep our environments sane. For digital things we curate to make special, in order to elevate the “best” for sharing for example.
This feels like a useful list, for me at least, as we continue to think about the digital and physical forms that we reminisce with through the things we keep. Relevant to the Technology Heirlooms work, anyway.
I’d forgotten about this video from last year’s Innovation Day event at Microsoft Research in Cambridge (so this was from about April 2009). It shows the V1 of Timecard, which was a non-working proof of concept that came before the working version I described recently. The comments about the goals behind the project still apply, even if the object itself has changed quite a bit.
Michael McClary has put together a write-up of a Microsoft event in London that I was lucky enough to participate in a few weeks ago. Focussed on showing off some of the cooler things coming up from us, it showcased to a UK audience first hand a lot of the announcements made at MIX 2010, including stuff about the Windows Phone, as well as giving some of our partners in the UK a place to showcase their work. Michael gives a great overview of everything that was shown on the day. Worth a read.
I felt a little out of place with my stuff about bereavement and heirlooms, but it seemed to go down well. I guess my role in this sort of session is to get the audience thinking about something quite outside of their own space, or the key topics of the day, before they get down to more “serious” business.
The location of the event was stunning, at the top of the CenterPoint tower in the centre of London. Here’s a few shots.
Looking out across the roof of the British Museum (left) and straight down Oxford Street (right):
The sun starting to set across London. I particularly like the brightly lit greenhouse on a rooftop in the centre of the second shot:
Channel 9 took video of our booth at TechFest 2010. It looks like they posted it over a week ago, so it slipped by me. TechFest is the annual Microsoft Research show-and-tell event that takes place in Redmond in the US. All the teams get a booth. This year we really went to town, dressing the booth in some very cool curtains/wallpaper designed by John Helmes. You’ll see him introduce our Family Archive/Memory Maker system in the first half of the video, which has changed radically since we showed a first version a year ago. The new system has a much broader story, with tagging, timeline visualizations and the creation of objects like digital scrapbooks.
In the second half of the video I’ll go on (some more) about Technology Heirlooms, and show some of the demos I posted shots of last week.
Kudos to Xiang Cao who was just off camera and so didn’t get featured in the video, but was the third Musketeer manning the booth for three days.
I was lucky enough to do a talk at the recent Interaction 10 conference in Savannah. An amazingly inspiring event, spread over a number of really eclectic locations (a theatre, a pharmacy, a blacksmiths and a restaurant). Compared to the inaugural conference in 2008, which was also in Savannah, the distribution of locations really encouraged mixing, as well as giving a much better sense of the city.
At some point I’ll go through my notes and write something up, but for now I thought I’d post the video of my bit.
Videos of the rest of the sessions are here.
Good video from Reuters giving a brief overview of some of the work done by my team and others in Cambridge. There’s a bunch of projects done by us that pass by in a flash.
The Product Design and Interactive Media Design students at Dundee University are participating in Microsoft’s Design Expo (part of the 2009 Faculty Summit) for a second year in a row. These are 2nd year undergraduate students (see my notes and the student presentation from last year), working to combine the brief we’ve set around “Work” with their goals of getting some ethnographic experience studying their grandparents, learning electronics, designing network objects and so on.
All 8 teams did an amazing job in their presentations, putting together their videos, as well as actually generating and developing their ideas into working prototypes and renderings.
Well done to all of them, as well as specifically to the Social Sewing group who’ll be going on to present their project in Redmond in July.
Thanks to Tim Regan for taking the following shots while we were there:
PSFK posted the video of the talk I gave recently at their Good Ideas Salon in London. It’s about 30 minutes long and covers some of our thoughts in Cambridge around how people get sentimental about objects, particularly heirlooms, and how that might apply to digital and technological objects in the future.
During the editing they seem to have replaced the Photosynth that I originally used (of a Guitar workshop) with the one from Obama’s inauguration, which changes the context a little (since I was really talking about capturing sentimental spaces).
“SDS has a knack for developing humble gadgets that you wish someone would sell you right here, right now; I personally yearn for my own Whereabouts Clock, which I believe I last saw in the Arthur and Molly Weasley home. As with almost everything at TechFest, nothing’s certain to see daylight and everything’s likely to change. Still, I came away from Cambridge’s booth more than ordinarily wishing that I already had the option to interact with technology the way they envision me doing, and glad they made the trip to Washington.”