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The Future of Looking Back

Timecard MockupCreating new value from reflecting on the past

This theme examines the possibilities for amassing and interacting with diverse collections of data and media related to personal experience, and asks what will become of this all in the future. Rather than to assume that such collections will provide us all with a prosthetic memory, we wish to explore a much larger and richer set of human values that such personal archives might highlight. This includes the way people construct a new sense of the past, how we can use such materials to honour and commemorate others, how we might use these materials to reminisce, and even the consideration of the importance of forgetting. In so doing, this theme is not just about memory, but is also about notions of identity, expression, narrative, and reflection. We examine these topics not just from the point of view of technology, or indeed psychology. Here we take a more multidisciplinary approach incorporating design, sociology, and anthropology too. The ambition in this work is not just to more deeply understand what value people derive from looking back, but also to open up the design space to new kinds of technological possibilities.

Key research questions include: 

  • What kinds of value do people place on different kinds of personal data and why?
  • Do these materials help us recollect the past, or do they help us reconstruct it or reflect on it in new ways?
  • How can personal archives be designed to both augment and enrich our interaction with the past?
  • How can archives be designed to allow us to orient ourselves toward the future?
  • What kinds of tools will help people to more creatively engage with materials from their past?
  • How can families or other social groups use these materials to construct new kinds of content?
  • Can we create new technologies to alleviate some of the guilt families feel about not dealing with and managing growing collections of photos, videos and other family media?
  • What is the importance of being able to forget some of our past, and how can technology support it?
  • What should happen with people’s personal digital content when people die, and how can we create technologies that can be passed on, perhaps ultimately becoming heirlooms in the process?

Example Projects: 

  • Family Archive
  • Human Memory in the Digital Age (book)
  • Technology Heirlooms
  • Narratives and reminiscing
  • TimeCard
  • Photoboxes
  • Day of the Dead