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The City as a Memory Tool

How can moments, which are individually encapsulated at points within the urban landscape,  self-reflect on our past to help us make better decisions in the future provide us with a way to relive our memories?

My previous thesis concept was the following:

Hometown is a service that promotes exploration and discovery by suggesting different paths from a user’s origin to destination with points of interests curated in between based on one’s personal interests and those of their social network.

Although not mentioned in the statement above, the most interesting part of this concept for me was the use case for someone 30 to 40 years down the road as their memory begins to deteriorate. How can a service like Hometown utilize these points of interests in the city to help people remember and re-experience past events whether it was by themselves or with others? I think I’ve come full circle to where I originally started off on this journey of thesis.

This semester’s Thesis Presentation professor, Paul Pangaro, picked my brain for a bit over Skype about what made my moments with my grandmother memorable. After recalling a few memories, I realized that each memory involved a physical location with an associated event. It was apparent that locations were easily associated to a person more so than a person to locations. This could perhaps be a result of the amount of contextual information provided at that location. To take this a bit further, when taken as a whole, these locations and memories help to reinforce the values that a person represented.

After my talk with Paul, I wanted Hometown to have a stronger focus on memories.

Hometown is a service that encourages people to build memories around the city in order to create an environment for them to be able to rediscover those memories later on.

The following has been struck out because features are not important yet. Online services such as Flickr, FourSquare, and GoWalla are already allowing users to geotag their locations and photos along with the people in them. By piggybacking off of these services, I’d like to create a service that aggregates this existing data, sorts them based on a user’s criteria (by location, people, weather, time of year, etc.), and creates paths based on these points of interest.

[UPDATED 01/30/11]
Paul recently asked me the following:

What is important about rediscovering memories later on?

Initially, I thought it would provide an opportunity for a person to share a conversation about an experience with the people involved. After some thought, I had a hunch that this wasn’t enough. With the power of mobile texting, I pinged several friends with the same question.

My brother, Will (The Quantum Lobe Chronicles), who’s in his 4th year of the Psy-D program at Yeshiva University also doing research in memory replied with the following:

  • So you don’t make the same mistake twice
  • Insight into current problems
  • Forms who we are
  • Helps us make informed decisions

My friend Rich replied with:

Memories reconnect you directly to a version of yourself that you may have forgotten since you change incrementally. It’s the realization of how far you’ve come as a person or how far you’ve fallen if you are someone less awesome.

And finally, from a fellow classmate:

Sometimes it’s just nice to be reminded because we think ahead so much, we don’t always remember what happened along the way.

The idea of self-reflection is common throughout the feedback that was provided to me. Taking this into account, I updated my statement to the following:

Reflection (new working title) is a service that encourages people to build memories around the city in order to create an environment for them to be able to rediscover those memories later on. Rediscovering these memories provide a moment of self-reflection that better informs them on their decisions that have been made in the past along with the decisions that will be made in the future.

Memories are placed throughout the cityscape. The location of each memory is based on its geolocation data that it was tagged with upon creation.

Memories located throughout the city, which are accessible via device

Memories located throughout the city, which are accessible via device

When a user stumbles upon an existing memory, they can access that memory, and self-reflect on how things might have changed from the time when that memory was created to present day. Additional memories may be left behind, which are then layered onto the previous memory creating a history of how one has changed over time with respect to that memory.

Layers of reflection can be added to a memory every time that memory is encountered

Layers of reflection can be added to a memory every time that memory is encountered

The next question that Paul asked was:

What does the service have to provide to support that value or meaning? What is the shortest and straightest line between the value or meaning and the service’s qualities—not its features—that will take those values and convey, carry, and preserve them across time?

According to a RadioLab podcast (at 20:00) from a few years back on the topic of memory, Yadin Dudai, a neuroscientist, the Sela Chair in Neurobiology and Head of the Department of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, mentioned that “if you have a memory, the more you use it, the more you’re likely to change it.” Basically, what we are doing is every time we think about a memory, we are recreating it with our current inputs and in turn, changing the memory.

Why do we have to preserve the originality of a memory? The originality of a memory invokes a sense of surprise and in turn, provides an impetus to rediscover other memories and maybe even create more memories. In order to preserve an original memory, the service can limit the accessibility of these memories. Besides having to be at a specific location to access the memory, what if memories were accessible after a certain period of time? What if memories sporadically faded in and out across the city?

Another apsect to consider is the possiblity of reconnecting people through these memories. Whenever a user accesses a previous memory and if the memory has other people tagged to it, those people would be notified about the memory being accessed. Perhaps a rekindlng of relationships? Or maybe the continuation of a conversation from a while back?

Other ways of conveying the value of the service is perhaps visualizing how one memory relates to another. This was mentioned earlier in the form of a memory trail over time.

Questions That I Still Have

  • Would people use this? (too general of a question)
  • Should I piggyback off of an existing service, e.g. Flickr?
  • Are there digital photos that you totally forgot about especially on services like Flickr?
  • Should memories be accessible during certain periods of time?
  • Can this be used to slow down the effects of dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Related Links

Less Related Links, But Still Interesting

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  • 28 Jan 2011

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