Set in Stone

Made by Allana Wooley

The Stone forces owners to prioritize remembering or forgetting their past by disallowing repetitive and constantly accessible curation tools.

Created: February 14th, 2019



When I was 10 or 11, I decided to reread journals I'd written a few years earlier. Predictably, I found myself embarrassed by what my younger self had written, reacting 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 was merely a consequence of youthful impetuousness, but I've deliberately and permanently deleted a number of memory-references (journal entries, pictures, videos) throughout my life. Sometimes this happens after a defining moment, like a breakup, and sometimes I was just embarrassed by a younger version of myself. I can't say I regret the lost memories themselves (as, without a reference point they have faded far faster into obscurity), but this urge to destroy memories and curate an already curated past is fascinating.

I want to create an object (the Stone) that pushes people to engage with their prior decisions about precious and meaningful memories. 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. Once a memory is shared to or added to the Stone, it's permanently there, encased by a protective barrier of concrete. The memories on the Stone can be viewed anytime by plugging in the tail USB, but they can never be altered or deleted. In fact, the only way to "delete" or edit a memory is to literally cut the cord permitting access to the memories inside. Adding a layer of complication,  the memories, housed on a flash drive embedded in the concrete object, don't cease to exist--they merely cease to be accessible.

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. I'm trying to force Stone owners into choosing, or at least considering, what's more important to them—remembering or forgetting?


The object itself is a Stone cone made of concrete with a 32 GB flash drive and 6 foot 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 accessing or forever ending access to the interior memories. The Stone is surprisingly heavy, a solid object that gives the interior memories an impression of importance and heft, despite the actual weightlessness of their digital forms.

The loop sticking out of the front of the Stone becomes one of the primary focal points of the object. What is it for? It invites grabbing, touching, engagement, and so serves to remind the owner of the power they hold to reminiscence or cut ties with their past. "Cutting the cord" is a crude, rudimentary action, users snipping the cord with a pair of scissors, a quick, irreversible action that should cause a moment of pause. In the event of a severing, the external-to-the-cone loop makes the severed connection visually salient--a reminder of the severed connection and impenetrability of the concrete blocking access to the memories held within.

The mold I used for the object is below. It's simple--a cup holding a flash drive, and a six foot extension cord with a tail and a loop sticking out the side.


I've also mocked up an example of the experience of adding memories to the Stone. Users can select any memory from their library and share them to the Stone. Once shared, the memory disappears from the user's other digital stores, preventing the memory holder from merely recreating a prior configuration and imparting additional significance to the internally-held memories.


I spent today carrying my Stone around campus, the cone fitting perfectly into the cup of my palm. Due to the weight of the Stone, I never forgot I was carrying it, but it wasn't ever a burden. In carrying the Stone around with me, an interesting phenomena emerged--I interacted with the interior memories even without the device plugged into a computer and the files pulled up. I knew what I had included in the object and so the physical object around the flash drive became a memory-reference to the memory-references. All day long, I walk around in a state of remembrance and reflection. The object, though relatively unobtrusive (just a small, gray cone), attracted a good deal of attention as I sat in classes, bought coffee and ate lunch. People want to know what it is all about, what I've included inside, and are more than happy to engage in a conversation about what they would set to remember and the circumstances in which they would cut the cord.



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 or archive photos from my Instagram feed. Everything is done in a curation frame of mind where the only past self I allow is one that aligns and supports the narrative of my current self. I allow messiness or contradictions, contrary to actual life.

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 exploration of personal memory. How do we curate our own lives? How do we decide what is worthy of keeping and noting? Can the minor, everyday moments be emblematic for relationships and periods of time, thus evolving beyond the mundane? What do we value in our memories? How do we decide what to share and what to store away as precious? If these prior projects focused on how we can curate and find value in any moment, 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 new position of decreased power--instead of endless editing control over our digitized memory references, the Stone owner has only two available methods for engaging with their stored memories--viewing and reminiscing or ending access forever.

I probably spent as much time thinking about my object and the contents it might hold as I did actually making it. Several hours of one afternoon were dedicated to digging through thousands of videos stored in my iCloud and on my phone from the past four years, rewatching, revisiting, and considering what moments were significant, poignant, happy, or important markers of change. Choosing the memories themselves, the things I wanted to curate and "permanently preserve" was an exercise in thinking about the past four years of my life and considering the ways small moments of happiness, melancholy, and sadness and fear have combined to contribute to the biggest period of personal growth and constant change in my short life thus far.

Once I had curated a selection of videos I felt hit the major events and emotional moments of the past few years of my life, be they mundane or life-changing, I loaded them onto a 32 GB flash drive and set them to read-only. The drive can no longer be tampered with and the memories cannot be removed or altered in any way.

The Stone is shaped like a cone because that's the workable and affordable mold I could get my hands on, but I like the idea that the Stone could take any form, the form reinforcing the contents and being a consciously curated addition to the memory-references inside as well. I will say, the cone allows the Stone to be very satisfactorily held in the palm, as personal an object as an iPhone. Pouring cement for the first-time was an experiment, but I like the uneven result with rough edges, holes and smooth, featureless spots. The Stone's appearance can be read as an embodied metaphor for the memories stored within.

Open Questions and Challenges

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 about 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 or painful personal failures. Removed from the immediacy of pain, they are able to reflect and appreciate they still have these memories, however.

I used my own memories for this project, walking back through hundreds of short videos I've taken over the past 4 years. The memories I included in the object are indeed some of my favorite and most personally impactful in terms of their reflection on my personal growth. 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 complicated, hidden emotions and background narrative. I watch them still, using them more as a probe of the past than a reminiscence tool in these instances, 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, and consciously curate, our memories as we grow and mature.

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48528 Responsive Mobile Environments

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This 15-week course introduces students to responsive mobile environments and encourages them to explore speculative terrains that intersect art, technology and design and space. Iteratively, intro...more


The Stone forces owners to prioritize remembering or forgetting their past by disallowing repetitive and constantly accessible curation tools.