Investigation II - Forgotten Objects

Investigation II: Forgotten Objects

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 the last module, we’ve spent time exploring the perfect memory. How we might use technology to capture, preserve and store the ultimate life archive. The opportunities that this might give us to reminiscence, remember, reflect, and to know ourselves better.

“people increasingly have digital possessions, and that the act of deletion does not offer the same cathartic sense of release as disposal of material artifacts” Sas, Whittaker and Zimmerman (2016)

In this module we’ll explore this prompt and ask how ubiquitous computing might be able to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds when forgetting.

Learning goals

This investigation will ask you to design for forgetting and we’ll develop a body of knowledge that explores how we can intentionally forget, let go, and divest ourselves of our digital past with new forms of ubiquitous, physical and tangible computing. As part of this exercise, you will:

  • Develop an understanding of the need to forget and the tensions that arise when digital accounts endure;

  • Investigate the concerns and considerations that currently surround our digital legacy online;

  • Examine existing technologies and precedents that explore themes of forgetting with digital tools;

  • Speculate on how hybrid practices (blended physical digital rituals) might be able to help divest and dispossess digital memory;

  • Work collaboratively in an applied investigation to tease-out the broader considerations, issues and requirements in building memory-technologies for forgetting.


“Since the early days of humankind we have tried to remember, to preserve our knowledge, to hold on to our memories and we have devised numerous devices and mechanisms to aid us. Yet through millennia, forgetting has remained just a bit easier and cheaper than remembering.” Victor Mayer-Schönberger.

No longer. Today, we’re already facing the reality of pervasive, ubiquitous and enduring information online. Our digital footprint is increasing large and it raises many complex and nuanced socio-digital considerations. Many of these are discussed by Fleischer’s online article Foggy thinking about the Right to Oblivion. Similarly, both Victor Mayer-Schönberger’s Delete and Liam Bannon’s ‘Forgetting as a feature, not a bug’ both underscore the need to digitally “forget” in an increasingly networked world. [sidenote: we’ll look at both in this investigation’s readings!]. In 1970, Alan Westin introduced the notion of information self-determination, or affording the right to control how information presents us. But it’s recently taken on new relevance as European court rulings have mandated it online. The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ asserts an individual citizen’s right to information self-determination and gives anyone affected by prominent links to embarrassing and unwanted information on the Internet the ability to remove them from search engine results.

But the recent work of Corina Sas reminds us of other, overlooked, human consequences of networking our digital mementos from a different frame. In her paper with Steve Wittaker, they raise the question:

“As our lives are increasingly digitally mediated, we’re capturing and sharing our relationships online. What happens when they come to an end?”

Examples of symbolic objects. From Sas & Whittaker (2013) [Design for forgetting...]( In Proc. CHI'13). ACM.

Examples of symbolic objects. From Sas & Whittaker (2013) Design for forgetting… In Proc. CHI’13). ACM.

Interviewing 24 people who have experienced a romantic breakup, they assert that “digital possessions are a problem demanding radical action”. In this and continuing work, Sas examining rituals of breakup, divorce, bereavement, and grief as a means to design for forgetting and suggests the need to create creative symbolic digital artifacts to support alternative ways of processing grief, separation and dissolution of intimate relationships (see below).

Relationships are just one of many cases where the pervasive, distributed, and redundancy-laden internet comes into conflict with our human desire to move on and forget. These individual, social and societal impacts, raise provocative questions about the internet and how we should remember.

  • What is forgetting in a networked world?
  • How can we recognize our digital footprint and manage it?
  • What shouldn’t be seen by our friends and colleagues today or our children tomorrow?
  • How can the past come back to haunt us?
  • Do we have the right to be forgotten online?
  • What is our digital legacy in a networked world?
  • How can we leave our past behind in an digital age?

Simply put, forgetting has value. It’s necessary. We need to ask how we can design for forgetting with our digital technologies. In this investigation, you’ll consider the value of digitally forgetting, and questions that surround managing our digital footprint, the nature of regret, dispossessing digital memories, and the effects of doing so. We’ll examine the ways in which we could help support forgetting today. We’ll consider the availability of web, social and other digital sources that we accumulate and how we might design new hybrid (physical digital) practices to divest ourselves of our digital footprints.

The “right to be forgotten” rule was passed in May 2014. It allows EU citizens to request links from search engines be removed and allow citizens to self-determine how they are represented online. Image Credit: [Regal Tribune](

The “right to be forgotten” rule was passed in May 2014. It allows EU citizens to request links from search engines be removed and allow citizens to self-determine how they are represented online. Image Credit: Regal Tribune.

Content and Methods

To learn about the wide range of topics in designing tools and practice for forgetting; 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 collaboratively develop a conceptual design and realize a ‘prototype’ that enables you to forget digitally.

Specificially, this module will formally introduce themes surrounding intentional forgetting, and the intersection of ubiquitous computing. To do this, we’ll examine rituals and practices for divesting and dispossessing the past. Case studies of research and practice will examine the ‘complex practices associated with problematic disposal of digital possessions’ and how rituals of grief offer embodied vehicles to transform experiences and allow someone to let go. Using these precedents as an inspirational resource, we’ll speculate on new embodied practices that allow us to express and transform grief, trauma and anguish through ubiquitous and connected computing. In addition to themes of design for forgetting, we’ll continue to explore methods for designing provocative objects through making, Specifically, we’ll look at how diegesis and futurescaping can to give access to an experiential world around your critical objects.


Date Type Description
Tues, Feb 13 Intro Forgetting in a Networked Age
In Class Exercise
Thurs, Feb 15 Screening Rituals for Forgetting
Screening - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Tues, Feb 20 Methods Diagetic Prototypes + Futurescapes
In Class Exercise
Thurs, Feb 22 Tech Tech Talk: Designing networked objects
Tues, Feb 276 Desk Crits Feedback on creative project development; 5 mins per person + office hours
Thurs, Mar 1 Review ZipCrit of creative project. Prepare a lightning Demo - 10 mins per group; 10 mins discussion

Deliverables and Deadlines

Due Date Deliverable Details
Thur, Feb 15 Think Piece Research a think piece on forgetting in a networked age on Slack in #thinkpieces.
Tues, Feb 20 Warmup Share your Letting Go on Slack in #projects.
Thur, Feb 22 Proposal Create a proposal for your creative project (200 words + illustrations) and share on the Gallery
Thur, Feb 22 Case Identify and describe a case study to support your project. Share on Slack in #cases.
Tues, Feb 28 Project Develop a rough cut to discuss during desk crits
Thur, Mar 1 Project Present your prototype in class.
Thur, Mar 1 Digital Crit Give feedback projects in class
Thur, Mar 1, midnight Documentation Deliver documentation of your creative project

Warm up Exercise

Letting Go: Preform a ritual of letting go (refer to Sas paper and discussion in class) and document your experiences. Alternative: Interview two or three people about their experiences of letting go. Talk with them about an ritual or practice they’ve used to let go of the past. Time Limit: 2 hours

Read the full description.

Think Piece

Forgetting in a networked age: Research and report on a topic directly related to the themes of the module: Forgettting in a Networked Age 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 designing for forgetting. 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

Design a hybrid ritual for data loss (the forgetting or dispossessing of digital memories) supported with one or more tangible (physical/digital) objects. Read the full brief.


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2010) Trailer · IMDB


After a painful breakup, Clementine (Kate Winslet) undergoes a procedure to erase memories of her former boyfriend Joel (Jim Carrey) from her mind. When Joel discovers that Clementine is going to extremes to forget their relationship, he undergoes the same procedure and slowly begins to forget the woman that he loved. Directed by former music video director Michel Gondry, the visually arresting film explores the intricacy of relationships and the pain of loss.


Review For Class

Tuesday, Feb 23 Chapter IV Of Power and Time. Viktor Mayer-Schonberger. 2009. Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA.
Thursday, Jan 25 Corina Sas and Steve Whittaker. 2013. Design for forgetting: disposing of digital possessions after a breakup. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1823-1832.
Tuesday, Jan 30 Chapter 5. A Methodological Playground: Fictional Worlds and Thought Experiments. Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT press, 2013.


  • Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor. Delete: The virtue of forgetting in the digital age. Princeton University Press, 2011.
  • Matt Bishop, Emily Rine Butler, Kevin Butler, Carrie Gates, and Steven Greenspan. 2013. Forgive and forget: return to obscurity. In Proceedings of the 2013 New Security Paradigms Workshop (NSPW ‘13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1-10. DOI:
  • L. J. Bannon, “Forgetting as a Feature, Not a Bug: the Duality of Memory and Implications for Ubiquitous Computing,” CoDesign Journal Vol. 2, No. 1, 3–15 (2006).
  • Schacter, Daniel L. “The seven sins of memory.” (2001).
  • Sas, Corina, and Alina Coman. “Designing personal grief rituals: An analysis of symbolic objects and actions.” Death studies 40.9 (2016): 558-569.
  • Wang, Yang, et al. “I regretted the minute I pressed share: A qualitative study of regrets on Facebook.” Proceedings of the seventh symposium on usable privacy and security. ACM, 2011.
  • Dodge, Martin, and Rob Kitchin. “‘Outlines of a world coming into existence’: pervasive computing and the ethics of forgetting.” Environment and planning B: planning and design 34.3 (2007): 431-445.
  • Bishop, Matt, et al. “Forgive and forget: return to obscurity.” Proceedings of the 2013 New Security Paradigms Workshop. ACM, 2013.
  • Jones, Meg Leta. Ctrl+ Z: The right to be forgotten. NYU Press, 2016.


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.

Projects and Cases

Museum of broken relationship: a shelter for exilied loves OLINKA VISTICA TEDxRoma

Museum of Broken Relationships “is a physical and virtual public space created with the sole purpose of treasuring and sharing your heartbreak stories and symbolic possessions. It is a museum about you, about us, about the ways we love and lose.”

AGRIPPA (A Book of the Dead): The Poem Running in Emulation

William Gibson’s poem played from a 3½-inch diskette on a 1992-era Mac computer running the System 7 operating system. When the diskette ran, the text of the poem scrolled up the screen (accompanied by infrequent sound effects—a camera shutter click, a gun going off—while an encryption program on the diskette encoded each line and made the poem “disappear” after its first reading.

See also: and The Disappearing $2,000 Book

Jennifer Lyn Morone, Inc

Jennifer Lyn Morone turned herself into a corporation:

Currently, we do not own our identity nor control our data shadows that are created and captured by modern technology and sold for profit by governments and industry. Establishing a human as a corporation allows assets to be sold and data becomes company property. In this way, the whole process of resources, production and ownership is rightly reclaimed by the individual.

See also: This Artist Turned Herself into a Corporation to Sell Her Data

Lose Lose

Lose/Lose - is a video-game with real life consequences. Each alien in the game is created based on a random file on the players computer. If the player kills the alien, the file it is based on is deleted. If the players ship is destroyed, the application itself is deleted.

See also: Know your Meme -Lose/Lose and The Dangerous Video Game You Weren’t Supposed To Play

Deletion process: Only you can see my history

Lyriaki Goni - DELETION PROCESS_ONLY YOU CAN SEE MY HISTORY (2014-2015) “Deletion process_Only you can see my history, comments on digital privacy, the right to be forgotten and the control and distribution of personal data. The work is based on the artists Google search history between 2008 and 2013. Most of these searches are personal and rather banal, at the same time however, this search history composes a rich and detailed user profile on Googles data centers. Google Inc. assures users that their search history is strictly private as it states on its website: Only you can see your history. “

Police Body Cameras: What Do You See?

Facebook’s info on Memorialized Accounts

Xpire - send self destructing tweets


Articles and Related Content