Sep 2017 - June 2018
The new mementos of a digital generation.
I want to turn the unintentional “digital traces” we leave on the Internet into a tangible format so that we can be more aware of the traces we are making. To do this, I have created a series of physical objects that capture those digital traces. My hope is that this series will eventually reflect our relationship with these traces and how we feel connected to the people we care for today.
The first glimpse at the objects may think they are common souvenirs which are memory objects we already familiar with. However, the objects informed by digital traces regenerate the meaning of the souvenirs and turn them into new mementos of a digital generation.
To anticipate consumer responses to these new digital trace souvenirs, I imagined how and why people might use these objects. To capture these scenarios, I have created the following description consisting of fictional product reviews. These stories are inspired by people I know or don’t know, online and offline.
Together Time Tracker
A watch-like wearable device for keeping track of how much time you physically spend with the people you care for.
Tracks and maps (with Google Maps) in real-time
Pairs with the mobile app to generate personalized insights and suggestions for how to improve a relationship.
Gives users the choice to reset every month, season or year
Useful for what it is
Been using it for a month now. Started to use it when our second child was born. I feel that I spend less time with my wife since the baby is here. We spend lots of time with the baby but not with each other. I hope this product will remind us that we should make an effort to have a meaningful time together.
Bought this with my boyfriend several months ago. Since we started dating, we basically spend every day together. After using it, he realized how much time we have been spending together and said it is too much. He suggested we should spend some time apart. It doesn’t help the relationship at all. Do NOT waste your money on it.
I’ve recently graduated from high school. My friends and I bought these together in our junior year. Even though I don’t see them every day, we make plans to see each other, like going to each other’s’ houses, parties etc. We post and celebrate on social media every time we reach another 100 hours together.
Is it so wrong that I don’t like spending time with my kids?
My wife forced me to buy this so we can keep track of how much time we spend with our kids. But the truth is, I am trying to have good quality time for myself. I come home as late as possible so I can spend less time with them. The monthly insights always trigger fights with my wife. She is mad at me for not making an effort to improve. I am mad that she forced me into this stupid service. This device will ruin your life.
Purchase History Candle
A candle based on the scents of the products your friend is using.
Scents of the shampoo, body wash, lotion, perfume, aftershave, mouthwash or toothpaste your friend bought recently online
20-30 hours burn time
All-natural soy wax
Made in the USA
Hand-poured in small batches
Smells like home
My mom uses a certain brand of detergent; I don’t use it because it is too expensive. Sometimes I will just buy the candle to feel safe and home again.
About to move on
This is my third time that I purchased my husband’s candle, who passed away 6 months ago. It is the mixed smell of his aftershave and cologne. The smell is on my clothes, towel, and bedsheets. With the smell, I vividly recall the time we spent together. I will keep buying it until I can fully move on.
I bought one of my friend’s candles. She is someone who actually smells like a breath of fresh air. I want to know how some people achieve that constant nice smell. It turns out that she only uses scent-free products, so my candle smells like nothing.
Catch a Liar
Verified my (now ex) boyfriend was cheating. Sucks but it’s better than never knowing the truth. We have been in a long-distance relationship for two years. We added each other to the list so we can order each other’s smells whenever we want, and I buy his candle every six months. I smelled something different in the most recent order. He is a person who does not change his detergent or shampoo brand easily. It confirmed what I had suspected: he has been living with another girl while having a long-distance relationship with me.
Crossed Paths Globe
The first meeting place of you and one of your friends is captured in a snow globe.
Based on your location histories, we will find out where you met each other for the first time
Includes a 3D print of the building from Google Maps
Each globe is individually crafted from start to finish
My husband and I submitted our data to celebrate our 15th anniversary. We received the globe fairly quickly and found more information than expected. We both thought we met at one of our best friend’s house. But it turns out we first met at the little restaurant just a block away from each of our parents’ houses when we didn’t know each other. It is amazing. Definitely, recommend to any couple looking for a special anniversary gift.
Tried the service with my best friend from high school. Hoped to find out something surprising but it turned out the way we expected. What a waste of money.
This company retrieves its data from Google. I didn’t use the Google location history service until last year so the location I got is totally not the first place my friend and I met. It is just the restaurant we went the day after I enabled the location history service on my phone ... VERY DISAPPOINTING.
It's okay I guess
You can find out some cool things, like when and where you met each other. You’re going to get bored with it after a while though. So, I would say buy it only if you have the money.
Interview and Exercise
“ If you were going to die tomorrow, how would you arrange your digital legacy?”
To better understand how people think about their ownership of visible digital traces, I organized a “Last Will and Testament” workshop. Six grad students in the RISD industrial design program participated in this workshop. I asked participants, “If you were going to die tomorrow, how would you arrange your digital legacy?”
The tremendous digital data we leave behind is a concern that previous generations have not had to consider. It is a hard question to answer. Our digital traces are too many to be easily organized. Some people in my workshop wanted their families to be able to keep their digital files. However, other people did not want their families to see all of their data. Most of the participants were unsure about how to deal with their digital legacy. Our relationship with the intentional and unintentional digital traces are both intimate and awkward. We create our traces about us but we barely feel like we own them.
“ Draw me a picture of an object that you own”
For this workshop, I asked people to draw from memory an object that they own. Six grad students from RISD or Brown University participated in this workshop. One person drew the Sony Walkman portable CD player she used in high school, another drew the watch he wears every day. In my observation, when drawing, people spent more time portraying the parts of an object that they have touched or that move physically—for instance, the window on the CD portable player or cord of the telephone. While experiencing an object, people tend to remember the parts involving more of their senses.
“ How can we use digital traces as a material?”
In a brainstorming workshop, I asked participants to use their own invisible and visible digital traces, including their playlists on Spotify and the location history in Google Maps as material to create a new service they would want to have in their lives. I had each participant create a service based on the three cards they picked. The first card showed a type of visible digital traces the participant created, like my Google calendar. The second card showed a type of invisible digital traces for the imagined user, like your alarm clock setting. The third card indicated the possible time frames for the service, like for the past three months. At the end of the brainstorming session, we created ten different kinds of services, like a service that will play the music based on the breakfast your friend had. The following paragraph illustrates two of the best ideas I got from the workshop.
By comparing location history, we can find shared connections with our friends. We may have met before when we were complete strangers to each other. I may stop by the café you like to go to every morning, we may sit next to each other in the restaurant, or we may play with the same dog that afternoon. These shared moments will generate new relationships between people.
This service lets you share your wishlist secretly. Your colleagues, friends or family can buy the data about whatever item you ever click on in the online shop. Through this information, he or she will know the latest items you need recently or the style you like. With this product, there is no more awkward hints or frustrating guessing
“1. Please list any places you lived for longer than 3 months, and the year(s) you lived there.
2. Please list some places you have visited or traveled to for business or pleasure for less than 3 months, and when you went there.”
For this workshop, I asked people to list all the places they have lived, and when they lived there. This exercise is a physical way of creating one’s own location history. For the places participants had lived for a long-term period (more than three months), participants easily recalled the location and time period. However, for places participants had lived only short-term (less than three months), participants often had to rely on social media or photo storage systems to recall the location and timing of their stays. Details about travel experiences that occurred before the existence of their social media accounts proved the hardest for participants to recall in detail. In some ways, people find it really useful to retrieve their forgotten memory from the digital traces. But in another way, they feel unsafe about this data stored online.
From this exercise, I also found that creating these personal location histories revealed previously unknown overlaps between people. Comparing their geographic histories, two of my friends found out they had actually been in Beijing at the exact same time--a year before they actually knew each other. I arranged a dinner and told this surprising finding to two of them. After they knew the fact that they went to the same place together at the same time, they asked each other about the details of that trip and exchanged the photo they took on that trip. Both of them admitted that this unexpecting finding brought them closer and made their memory of that trip more special.
In my explorations, I found out that we often feel ambivalent about our relationship with unintentional digital traces. It can be difficult to recognize the value of these traces or how digital traces could affect our lives. Based on these four exercises, I came up with the following design principles to guide my vision for my design suggestions.
Digital traces souvenir should result in a physical object.
[Exercise 2] [Exercise 4]
Digital traces souvenir should make people feel connected when they are apart.[Exercise 3]
Digital traces souvenir should prompt conversation.