Monday, February 9, 2009

death, inheritance and heirlooms

I had an interesting conversation with Richard Banks today over lunch.

Richard has been looking at what it means to design digital artifacts with longer time spans in mind, and taking heredity of objects into account. He explained his interest in the design of a form of technology which he refers to as technology heirlooms. 

In my understanding, a technology heirloom is a technological product/object that is designed with the intention that it might live longer than its owner and therefore be "handed down"  embodying an impression or sense of its owner. (Richard, please correct me if I am wrong!)

Digital objects are normally thought of in the short term. But Richard is now asking what happens when we consider these objects in the long term that may have unpredictable and unexpected value to our children and families. 

I find this notion of digital objects being un-obsolete (have I just made up a new word?) fascinating. If I were to pass my iPod down to one of my grandchildren, how will they perceive it? Will they keep it in a shoe box under the bed as they feel obliged to keep it but not to use it? Will my (varied) music collection be loved or hated? Will my iPod still be "cool"?

What will "retro" designed object look like in 2109?

Death is something we all experience whether it be through bereavement or through the approach of death itself; it is part of life. Considering digital products may outlive their owners introduces a whole new principle in the way we design objects themselves; design for the dead?

Which leads me to think: Who will I pass my Facebook profile onto?


Steph said...

But will it work? I'm most likely to get an ohm reader that my dad made when he was younger. It's really old. It works with a needle pointing at a value. It still would work but it wouldn't be very effiecient. I would still keep it just to pass it onto my children to say my dad made this and to say look how old technology is! I suppose it falls into that issue about "why is this not is a museum?" It's a way to show people how we use to work.

p.s. this was just a little story that i thought you might like to know.

Gio said...

Thanks Steph.
It's a very valid argument. In my opinion, I don't believe a digital object from today will live longer than its owner. I mean "planned obsolescence" is designed into many products these days so that when the product does break, a new one has to be bought! It's capitalist product design.
But is this really the point? A dead iPod may still contain a sense of its owner even though it doesn't work! Perhaps technology in the future will be able to bring old, broken objects back to life!

p.s. it WAS a story I liked to know! :)

Hazel White said...

Hi Gio - that's the tension with digital artefacts, and specifically the area that I'm in - jewellery: one of the key attributes of (significant) jewellery is its resonance to those that inherit it - and its a bit of a blow if your sadly departed's necklace fails to boot up.

Ewan (Steel) and I are developing jewellery and interactions that are independant of one another - the jewellery has capabilities as a on/off for multimedia content, but the jewellery still exists as a stand-lone artefact and loses little of its resonance if the technology becomes obsolete. The aesthetics and material considerations are key- but so is the access to software: iphones are beautiful desirable objects - but not if they are out of power. The challenge is to create an object whose longevity is not dependant on a specific software, but on emergent technology, such as colour(our thing at the moment) or other recognition/tagging.

What Kat Did said...

Hi Gio, just some thoughts.
I really hope that this idea can be developed further because (as you know) I think there is a danger of losing the excitement and sentiment of e.g. music.

Today I bought some vinyl records. And now tape casette players are a la mode.... but part of the thing that made music exciting before was going down to the store, buying the vinyl/casettes or even CDs and having the whole product, the whole experience before you even get round to playing it. And that is what is exciting about passing down these items and their players.

I think the key sentimental value of the likes of an iPod is that in years to come if you look back at the library, that person's entire personal musical preferences from a specific moment in time, are all in one small object.