"I’ll want to remember this moment forever”
Made by Allana Wooley
My object will store a digital collection of impactful experiences. Connected through an app, a user could be anywhere and capture some reference of an experience to add to an account on their object. Once a memory is added to the object, it’s there forever. There is no creating alternative versions of the past. If a user wants to remove a memory, they must reset the object, and lose their collection of memories. The idea is to force people to choose between remembering or forgetting.
Created: February 4th, 2019
When I was 10 or 11, I decided to reread journals I'd written when I was 7. Predictably, I found myself embarrassed by things my younger self had written and reacted by tearing out all of the pages and ripping them up, essentially erasing any recorded 'memories' that weren't also imprinted to my consciousness (not many). I'd like to say this is a merely a consequence of youthful impetuousness, but I've deliberately and permanently deleted a number of memory records throughout my life, from drawings to images to videos. Sometimes this happens after a breakup, after a friend's estrangement, after growing and maturing a little bit. I've also witnessed friends engage in this memory destruction. I can't say I regret the lost memories themselves (as, without a reference point they fade far faster into obscurity), but I do find this urge to destroy memories and curate our past a fascinating area for exploration and posing a personal challenge.
With this object, I want people to really come to terms with how they value their past and the memories and moments that, collectively, contribute to the essence of who they are. The idea is to create a kind of “imprint” holder, an object that can store a digital collection of somebody’s impactful experiences—songs, pictures, videos, etc. that point to a specific moment or era. A user could be anywhere, experiencing a moment, and capture some reference of it to share to a home "Stone." Back at home, this object can be plugged in and viewed on any computer with a USB port.
The catch is that once a memory is shared to this object, this Stone, it belongs to the stone. Once shared, the memory is removed from the capturing device. The flash drive inside the Stone is inaccessible and the files inside are set to read-only so memories cannot be tampered with or edited. While memories can easily be accessed for viewing, the only way to "delete" or edit a memory is to literally cut the cord allowing access to the memories inside. The memories will continue to exist, but are impossible to access.
There is no post-experience curation or pruning of selected memories to create alternative, sanitized or idealized versions of the past. There is instead a complete record of everything the Stone's owner, at least at one point, deemed significant enough to record. If a user really wants to remove a memory, they have to give up all of their memories. The idea here is that people will be preemptively thoughtful about what they want to record in the box, knowing the permanence of it. That the box forces people to reset their accounts and lose all they’ve curated if they want to get rid of a memory will further require people to reflect about how past events, emotions, and occurrences contribute to who they are in the present moment and what’s more important to them—remembering or forgetting?
After talking with the professor and TA about the practicalities of implementing my idea, I decided to focus on building a prototype that would allow those interacting with it to mimic the functionality of a fully built prototype and really place emphasis on this idea of all or nothing and the intentionality with which we might choose what we're remembering.
The object itself is a Stone cone made of concrete with a 32 GB flash drive and extension cord coiled inside. A tail pokes out one side and allows the memories to be viewed and recalled. A loop sticks out the other end--a constant, visual reminder that the Stone's owner has the ultimate power in choosing or forgetting memory-aiding references. The concrete makes the object heavy, gives it a weight--justified by the weight of memories and the place the impactful ones, the ones we're likely to store have in creating who we are.
"Cutting the cord" is a crude, rudimentary action, as any excision of memories would be--users literally have a knife to carve the memory-referencing moments from their lives.
One of the instigating ideas behind my final project is how much I've curated my own social media accounts. I've deleted 98% of all Facebook posts I've ever made in the past couple of years, and I frequently delete photos from my Instagram feed. Everything is done in this curation frame of mind where the only past self I allow is one that aligns with my current self. All social media apps allow this curation of the past and I wanted to challenge the ease with which people can refine and clean up their past.
I found the Museum of Random Memories to be a fascinating look into the types of things we remember and the narratives we attach to things like pictures and videos. The museum was actually a collection of academics and artists exploring the way we attach and maintain narratives to even the most mundane of moments. Participants would find a random, senseless image in their camera roll and detail the narrative surrounding the image. These images were of things like food at the supermarket, a parking sign, a book cover--images that would be meaningless when viewed by anybody but the memory-holder and would not be the types of images shared or curated on public-facing social media channels. And, yet, participants were invariably able to attach narratives and explain the reasoning and background for all of the images, allowing the researchers to collect snapshots of everyday life, unfiltered.
The artist Arthur Fields created a Curated Memory project where he examined how the memories we capture through digital means affect the ways we remember and what it is that we remember. Most of the images and videos we take are sent to the cloud, never to be engaged with again. He took actual images he had shared throughout a year and coupled them with location markers, hashtags, and overheard quotes. In other words, he situated his selected and shared images within a created context that he believed helped define his self identity and public presentation.
In all of these examples, it is the idea of curation that is most personally interesting and influential in my own personal memory project. How do we curate our own lives? How do we decide what is worthy of keeping? What do we value in our memories? How do we decide what to share and what to store away as precious--a memory designed for persona benefit? If these prior projects focused on how we can curate and find value in the mundane, I want to focus on what happens when we want to curate the curated. What can we do when we want to change our minds about the memories that matter?
The original idea was just a memory holder that could be added to from anywhere. Essentially--a tangible "favorites" folder, or physical, personal Instagram account. I wanted a place where people could be wholly genuine about the memories they shared. As I worked on developing out this idea (a box with imagistic QR codes on each side allowing the user to alternatively access music, images, text, videos, etc.), I started thinking more and more about how the object owners would engage with the memories they stored. Would they just mindlessly watch or ignore the memories? How can I ensure they will want to engage with the memories and have some serious engagement with the content in front of them? This is where the idea of an external memory-owner came from. If the object owns the memories, it's both a protector, a hoarder and vulnerable to the real threat--the human who poured their life into the object.
This initial idea led to the idea I executed with the Stone. Taking the power to control memories away from the human by digitizing the memories in a single, inaccessible format (other than a single USB port to view and engage with the drive contents), puts the human in a place we never are with our digital accounts and devices that give us endless editing control over our digitized memory references. The human has only one available method to engage with their stored memories--they can cut the cord and cut off access forever.
Since I'm only deleting the digitized, external memory-reference and not going into the user's brain and excising the memory, I'm curious on the long-term effect cutting off access to the memory-reference has on the root memory itself.
Through the process of ideating and creating the Stone, I've spent a lot of time talking to people about the tools they use to help them remember and their attitude to this idea of curating the past and deleting memories. What I've found is that most people have a knee jerk "No, of course I would never delete my memories!" response. When pressed a little bit, they admit they've had these urges to excise potentially triggering memories and physical mementos after traumatic personal events, such as breakups. Removed from the immediacy of pain, they are able to reflect and appreciate they still have these memories. That urge, though, that urge is what I'm exploring.
I used my own memories for this project, spending a few hours walking back through short videos I've taken over the past 4 years. The memories I included in the object are indeed some of my favorite or most personally impactful. However, I wanted to challenge myself, so I included some memories that I struggle with. Any outside viewer would see a happy girl and a fun experience but, having lived these experiences, I know how they were tinged with hidden things. I love them, but they also make me a bit sad to rewatch. Will I want to keep this sadness, even though it is important to me that I remember? Or will one day I grow tired and cut the cord, ready to move on from that particular pain?
Ultimately, I am happy with this piece. I would have liked to be able to build out the technology behind sending memories directly into the device, but unfortunately lack the requisite skills. What this piece accomplishes very well is actually starting conversations around memory and how we hold onto memories as we grow and mature.
My object will store a digital collection of impactful experiences. Connected through an app, a user could be anywhere and capture some reference of an experience to add to an account on their object.
Once a memory is added to the object, it’s there forever. There is no creating alternative versions of the past. If a user wants to remove a memory, they must reset the object, and lose their collection of memories. The idea is to force people to choose between remembering or forgetting.