Scenario Communications, Wellington, NZ

Objectify

In our increasingly technology driven society, where products are made with only a shelf life of a few years in mind (until the next version comes out or it breaks and you buy a new one) and our lives are becoming ever more digital, I’ve found myself pondering - what does that mean for the future of family heirlooms? Can we pass on or leave behind our digital life?

 

I know this is something most people wouldn’t likely think about, but I’m a self-confessed hoarder. Not the “my house is overflowing and I have to climb over things” kind (like you see on those TV shows), but I definitely form attachments with objects. I love the emotions and the sense of nostalgia they can conjure - the idea that the objects themselves have had a rich life, a sense of history, have been used for more than one person’s lifetime. They’re not perfect, they’re worn, but there is a beauty in the imperfections and they were solidly made and of good quality. And I know in today’s world there’s a real push towards the ‘less is more’ mantra, but objects… well, they just make me happy.

 

I worry that technology and cheap mass production may eradicate this relationship with objects from future generations, that in a sense we may lose this connection with where we’ve come from. How will someone’s life be passed on/remembered if not through objects? With the likes of the Warehouse and Ikea pumping out cheap furniture (which doesn’t last more than one lifetime), have we as society lost the link, the sense of history we have with objects?

 

If you asked most young people of today what their prized possession is, generally the answer would be their smartphone. Or maybe I’m being a bit harsh…

 

As we all know, heirlooms are traditionally items like jewellery, furniture, photos – basically objects that are passed down through generations, a link to our past, our heritage. For example, I have my great-great-grandfather's pocket watch. The arms are so rusted they look like a decent knock could crumble them, but it means so much to have something which represents my family’s history.

 

In the past we printed out all our photos. These days they stay as data for years on end - however when they’re ‘special’ and we want them on display, we generally revert back to the tried and true format and print them out. With an increasingly digital world, will the way we reminisce and reflect change - meaning we lose touch with objects?

 

I did a little research on this and found Richard Banks from Microsoft Research has done a lot of research into the sentimentality of data and developed items such as Timecard and Back-up Box. Timecard is a bit like a digital photo frame, but the content is structured by time, so you can view a timeline of images or view them in slideshow mode. Backup Box is more based around text/messages, backing up for example your twitter account (which has replaced the more traditional diary), allowing you to see the ‘timeline’ of your tweets graphically, clicking on one will open it.

 

While these are nice ideas, they immediately raise issues in my mind about whether they will still be accessible in the not-to-distant future. It does seem slightly ironic that the older the type of media (i.e., photos, sheet music, books, diaries), the longer they are likely to stay in a usable format - we can’t say the same about the more recent VHS, cassettes and zip discs.

 

It also poses the question: would you want to leave your digital life behind as your legacy for future generations?

 

“Legacy is not just what we inherit from those who came before us but also what we leave to those who follow.” - Bill Buxton, Foreword, ‘The Future of Looking Forward’ by Richard Banks

 

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