Investigation I - Objects of Memory

Investigation I: Objects of Memory

About this Investigation

Investigations are a series of small exercises designed to explore a conceptual space and culminates with a made artefact. The format is 3-week rapid explorations of a theme, idea or theory.

In this module we’ll explore the intersection of ubiquitous computing and distributing memory through and with objects. We’ll examine the ways in which people embed, encode and embody memories in objects - from the everyday to the cherished keepsakes. We’ll examine aspects of material culture and ethnographic explorations of mementos in domestic settings. Using this footing we’ll explore ‘tangible memories’ or how new smart and connected devices can be used to externalize, cue, and preserve memories and experiences.

Learning goals

This investigation is designed to develop knowledge relating to memory and technology and help to develop a body of knowledge as to how memory can potentially be supported with new forms of ubiquitous, physical and tangible computing. As part of this exercise, you will:

  • Develop your domain understanding of ubiqutious, tangible, and connected technologies, as well as theory, concepts and ideas relating to memory-technology.

  • Investigate existing technologies which can, could and are being used to support/augment/enhance/change memory

  • Speculate on potential approaches to augmenting memory from the practical to the outlandish (strongly encouraged);

  • Develop a hands-on exploration that begins to tease-out the broader considerations, issues and requirements in building memory-technologies (social, cultural, personal, implications etc.)

  • Work individually to explore your own skillsets, expertise, and perspective within the context of this course and understand how they might contribute to an interdisciplinary investigation by making work.

Content and Methods

To learn about the wide range of topics in memory-technology; we’re going to learn from each other. Each of you will research a topic of interest to you as well as share a case study in the space and report back. This will help you build familiarity and give us as a group a catalog we can draw from in our explorations. The review of this catalog will provide groundwork to building an informed response to the creative project. Using your research, you’ll develop your own ‘prototype’ and experiment with memory-technologies by preparing a conceptual design for a device.

Specificially, this module will formally introduce themes surrounding ‘tangible memories’ and the intersection of physical computing and human experience and memory. To do this, we’ll examine the material culture and social histories of objects through research and practice. Case studies will introduce examples of how we can begin “augmenting objects with capacities for communication, such intimate designs recognize the significant role objects play in mediating interpersonal relationships between people, but also the ways objects are active participants in social relationships.” *

In addition to themes of distributed and externalized memory, we’ll also explore methods for designing provocative objects through making. Specifically we’ll look at the role of critical design and critical engineering in our explorations and investigations.


Date Type Description
Tuesday, Jan 23 Intro Topic: Objects of Memory
Thursday, Jan 25 Screening ‘Total Recall’, Screening: [The Entire History of You]
Tuesday, Jan 30 Methods Critical Engineering
Thursday, Jan 1 Tech Tools for Sousveillance and Tangible Memories
Tuesday, Feb 6 Desk Crits Feedback on creative project development; 5 mins per person + office hours
Thursday, Feb 8 Review ZipCrit of creative project. Prepare a lightning Demo - 2 mins per student.

Deliverables and Deadlines

Due Date Deliverable Details
Thursday, Jan 25 Warmup Share your Time Capsule on Slack in #projects.
Tuesday, Jan 30 Think Piece Research a think piece on tangible memories on Slack in #thinkpieces.
Thursday, Feb 1 Proposal Create a proposal for your creative project (200 words + illustrations) and share on the Gallery
Thursday, Feb 1 Case Identify and describe a case study to support your project. Share on Slack in #cases.
Tuesday, Feb 6 Project Develop a rough cut to discuss during desk crits
Thursday, Feb 8 Project Present your prototype in class.
Thursday, Feb 8 Digital Crit Give feedback projects in class
Thursday, Feb 8, midnight Documentation Deliver documentation of your creative project

Warm up Exercise

Time Capsule: Explore the objects that embody your memories by distilling them into a time capsule of you; only to be opened in 25 years.

Read the full description.

Think Piece

Distributed Memory: Research and report on a topic directly related to the themes of the module: Objects with Memory, and Externalizing Memory with Ubiquitous computing; etc.; etc. Document and report your findings to the class and reflect on their implication for what and how we’ll make. Read the full description.

Case Study

Identify and critically review a case study on tangible memories, and/or memory technology. The focus here is on a product or project that presents an interesting approach, method or strategy that can be leveraged in your own work. Report your discoveries. Read the full description.

Creative Project

Develop a hybrid object (tangible, connected object) for memory; this critical prototype should embody, externalize or augment your memory through digital and computational processes. Read the full brief.


The Entire History of You, Black Mirror (s1.ep3) (2010) Netflix · IMDB


In the near future, everyone has access to a memory implant that records everything they do, see and hear - a sort of Sky Plus for the brain. You need never forget a face again - but is that always a good thing?


Review For Class

Tuesday, Jan 23 Abigail J. Sellen, Steve Whittaker. (2010) Beyond Total Capture: A Constructive Critique of Lifelogging. Communications of the ACM, Vol. 53 No. 5, Pages 70-77
Thursday, Jan 25 O’Hara, Kieron. “Narcissus to a man: Lifelogging, technology and the normativity of truth.” (2010).
Tuesday, Jan 30 Bleecker, Julian. “Design fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. 2009.” Retrieved June 16 (2015).; & The Critical Enginnering Manifesto


  • Vannevar Bush (1945) As We May Think, Atlantic Monthly, 176(1) 1945.

  • Bell, G., Gemmell, J.A. (2007) A Digital life. Scientific American, March 2007.

  • Daniela Petrelli, Elise van den Hoven, and Steve Whittaker. 2009. Making history: intentional capture of future memories. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘09). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1723-1732.

  • Petrelli, Daniela, et al. “FM radio: family interplay with sonic mementos.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2010.

  • Petrelli, Daniela, et al. “Digital Christmas: an exploration of festive technology.” Proceedings of the Designing Interactive Systems Conference. ACM, 2012.

  • David Frohlich and Rachel Murphy. 2000. The Memory Box. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 4, 4 (January 2000), 238-240. DOI=

  • Mann, Steve, Jason Nolan, and Barry Wellman. “Sousveillance: Inventing and using wearable computing devices for data collection in surveillance environments.” Surveillance & society 1.3 (2002): 331-355.


Below is a list of additional online material that relates to the module and provides a starting point for your explorations. This is by no means exhaustive i.e. you should read/research beyond it.



Memory Device

Perception, Data Collection and Memory – Ishac Bertran - “Continuing his exploration of personal objects in the age of information overload, Manual Reader and Memory Device are two new devices by Ishac Bertran that address perception, personal data collection and memory.”

Daily Stack. Sebastian Rønde Thielke. Anders Højmose

Daily Stack - “is a playful tool that helps you become more aware of your daily work-flow and time management. By creating a physical representation of your tasks…”

Nobu Nakaguchi. Kinetic Memory Triggers

Kinetic Memory Triggers - “A series of five anthropomorphic sculptures designed to trigger memories through movement, materiality and sound.”

KyungYun Choi. REMINISCE : Translating Ambient Sounds of Moment into Tangible Memories through Animated Paper. A tangible memory notebook–REMINISCE–that records the ambient sounds and translates them into a tangible and shareable memory using shape-changing paper that replays the recorded sounds.

Dominic Wilcox's [No Place Like Home, GPS shoes](

Dominic Wilcox’s No Place Like Home, GPS shoes

After uploading your required destination to the shoes via a piece of custom made mapping software and a USB cable, the GPS, which is embedded in the heel, is activated by a heel click. It then communicates to the wearer via a ring of LED lights to point in the required direction.

Eric Gradman’s Facelogger is “is a passive lifelogger that helps me remember every person I meet by creating flashcards of their face, name, where we met, and our conversation. Facelogger consists of an always-on videocamera necklace, a software suite to process the video, and a smartphone interface for reviewing the flashcards.”

“A diary provides a useful means to express inner thoughts and record experiences of past events. In re-readings, it also provides a resource for reflection, allowing us to re-experience, brood over or even shed the thoughts and feelings we’ve associated with events or people. To expand on the ways in which we creatively engage in diary-keeping, we have designed an affective diary that captures some of the physical, bodily aspects of experiences and emotions—what we refer to as “affective body memorabilia”. The affective diary assembles sensor data, captured from the user and uploaded via their mobile phone, to form an ambiguous, abstract colourful body shape. With a range of other materials from the mobile phone, such as text and MMS messages, photographs, etc., these shapes are made available to the user. Combining these materials, the diary is designed to invite reflection and to allow the user to piece together their own stories.”

Playful Self is an interactive exhibition piece that explores a future where “all biometrics of our body will be available instantly or continuously. Most objects around us will listen to our “body data” and react accordingly.”

Deborah Aschheim’s Neural Architecture

[Deborah Aschheim]('s [Neural Architecture](

Deborah Aschheim’s Neural Architecture

Tangible Memories' [Objects of Escape - Rocking Chair Prototype](

Tangible Memories’ Objects of Escape - Rocking Chair Prototype

Tangible Memories’ Objects of Escape - Rocking Chair Prototype

We are exploring how virtual reality technology and interactive furniture can be used as a way for older people to access memories. In the comfort of a rocking chair, using virtual reality goggles or audio speakers, it is possible to experience favourite places and the great outdoors in 3D or in stereo, through 360º images or evocative soundscapes. These journeys of the imagination can rekindle past memories and help to assist reminiscence and storytelling. See More


Daniel M. Wegner, Adrian F. Ward on December 1, 2013. The Internet Has Become the External Hard Drive for Our Memories. The Atlantic

Material Culture

Tools for Sousveillance

  • Reporter App - “application for understanding the things you care about. With a few randomly timed surveys each day, Reporter can illuminate aspects of your life that might be otherwise unmeasurable.”

  • Data Selfie is a browser extension that tracks you while you are on Facebook to show you your own data traces and reveal what machine learning algorithms could predict about your personality based on that data.

  • Floodwatch - empowering individuals to reverse engineer ad targeting

  • Wearable Cameras like Snap’s Spectacles, Authographer, Narrative clip and Sony Xperia Eye

Collaborations and Institutions

  • Recall Consortium aims to re-think and re-define the notion of memory augmentation. An research consortium funded by the EU’s Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) program

  • Tangible Memories is “an interdisciplinary team including digital artists and makers, learning researchers, computer scientists, social historians, older people themselves and those who work with them we are co-producing a set of new digital tools that will address some of the key societal challenges concerning the care and well-being of older people and the legacy of the memories and stories that they leave for future generations.”

Videos and Documentaries

PBS: Objects and Memory (2008)

Objects and Memory

The documentary film and educational initiative Objects and Memory is about how we respond to history while it is happening and how we tell our stories through the otherwise ordinary things in our homes and museums that are associated with people, places, and events.

Lifeloggers. A documentary by Narrative