I was at a Microsoft event last week and was fascinated by a talk by Richard Banks from Microsoft Research Cambridge on the sentimentality of data. It was in a similar vein to James O’Neill’s article called A Gentle Plea for Organisation in that Richard kicked off the session discussing old photographs of his grandfather and how he had written notes (or metadata) on the back.
Richard highlighted that we all enjoy reflecting on our past and telling stories – in fact we all reach a time when we want to do that, but how do we pass this information on to our own offspring? What if we inherit PC’s from our parents? How many of us have boxes of photos that sit in the corner that ‘at some point’ we’ll create an album from? It’s the same with the PC – one day someone will go through it and find personal data about who owned it.
Richard then asked an interesting question – we keep stuff that’s sentimental, but does the story stay with the object? Does anyone else know what that specific object you hold so dear means?
He had some ideas (of course!) on how to make sure memories are kept with the object. What would it be like to have your grandfather’s PC as a virtual PC on your desktop? Emery University has just created an archive of Salman Rushdie’s PC for people who are interested in Salman’s waste bin (yes, there are some out there!).
Some people inherit diaries from their parents or grandparents – they remind us of the day to day mundane aspects of life, similar to Twitter. How do we do the same thing and collect tweets? Will it matter in 30 years time what you were doing in 2010?
Richard and his team tested a back-up box that sits in your living room backing up your Twitter feed – it accrues things that in the future you might be sentimental about. What does it mean to keep this alive and passed down through generations? What happens if the services no longer exist that people rely on today to keep their online diaries?
He also introduced the concept of a digital slide view. Do you want the Flickr account of your relative or do you want to keep the photos themselves? You can pay a company to download someone’s Flickr account to the digital slide view. But what about the comments that friends made on those photographs? Which photos did people think were the coolest? What other value comes with online sentimental data?
Using Photosynth, Richard’s team captured spaces that hold sentimental value (i.e. his grandfather’s workshop) for posterity. Personal Informatics means capturing things about yourself and what your doing – e.g. Nike+, so is there sentimental value about data relating to your life as well as objects? How far do you go to make sure your life is captured for posterity and that people will care about it?
People with dementia and other short term memory issues can be helped by technologies like SenseCam. The camera lives around your neck and captures photos – you can set SenseCam to operate on a timer, for example taking a picture every 30 seconds or every 10 minutes. This has been extremely successful in jogging the memory to remind people of what their actions were each day. The problem is the vast amount of data that’s available now. In the past it was about the lack of information available for reminiscing and recreating the past, whereas in the future it’s likely to be about making sense of the overwhelming volume of data.
The SenseCam can be used to keep a diary – Richard showed an example of an edited day from the SenseCam but also asked, would you want to watch 365 of these, however much you loved your relative? However it would be great to see a snapshot of a day in the life of your relative to see how they spent their days. Richard confirmed it’s possible to create something that’s quite poetic – but how do we manage the quantity and determine what information really matters?