Last night, with the help of my brother, Will, I completed my first round of prototyping for Memori. Will was perfect for this session because 1) Memori is about reliving past experiences, which in this case was our early childhood in Manhattan and 2) our experiences were very similar since we are only a year apart in age.
Before my first round of prototyping, I had a list of questions along with some assumptions that I wanted to validate.
A few days prior, I had a chance to explore by foot the area that we grew up in during the early 1980s. This region covered parts of the Lower East Side (Rivington and Allen St.) and Chinatown. At each significant location, I took either a photo or wrote a message about what made that place special to me. I also had my mother do a voice recording via voicemail with her memories about raising us in the neighborhood. This piece of content was associated to the front doorstep of the apartment we used to live at on Allen street. I then placed these pieces of content into envelopes which would then be opened at their respective locations. For content that required a digital device, such as my mom’s recording, additional instructions were placed into the envelope on how to access that data.
Here’s the list of locations that were plotted out for Will to visit including the type of media that was presented in an envelope at each spot:
We skipped location #1 since the fish market was closed by the time we got there.
When we got to Bowery and Hester (#2), Will remembered the wall of graffiti that existed on the corner of the street, but it didn’t trigger the memory of the Music Palace movie theater that was located right next to it. After revealing the contents of the envelope, which consisted of the photo pictured below, he not only remembered the movie theater, but he also quickly recalled a memory about watching a Cantonese movie with my aunt when we were kids.
For the next location, 62 East Broadway (#3), my brother and I stood in front of the underground barber shop talking about how the barber was basically babysitting us while our mom was busy running errands. At one point, my brother mentioned the oscillating fan that used to sit in the corner of the shop, which was also one of my key memories of the place. That one memory helped to validate my own past memories and also further established a common ground between what we were reminiscing about.
At Market street and East Broadway (#4), the memory that he recalled wasn’t as important because, according to him, it was “still too recent.” Afterwards, as we made our way over to Allen street, Will all of a sudden stopped in his tracks and excitedly said “There’s this wafting smell of what seems like coffee.” Going back to the question of this being in a home vs. a city, this sensorial stimulation proves that this service should exist within the city landscape rather than a confined area such as a home because a city offers more variety in the types of memory cues.
Next stop, Eldridge and Delancey (#5). Will didn’t recall a playground ever being there, even after I gave him some details about the recreation area.
Before reaching our final destination, we walked by the school at Eldridge and Rivington (#6), where we used to attend daycare. Will didn’t remember the building, but he did remember certain events that happened inside such as the blue cots that we used to nap on.
As we finally reached 157 Allen street (#7), I handed Will a pair of headphones along with my iPhone. On it was a voice message that my mom left behind with some of the memories that she still retained about raising us in the neighborhood. In the video clip below, the facial expression and the overall reaction that Will displayed demonstrates that the audio piece was a powerful memory trigger. It’s also important to note that my mom’s memories about her getting us cakes for our birthdays triggered Will’s event-specific knowledge of getting a Smurf’s cake for his birthday.
Afterwards, Will mentioned that listening to the audio at that specific location motivated him to “try to go back in time to try to remember how it all happened.”
In hindsight, watching Will react the way he did was meaningful to me. It validated how we both felt about our childhood (lifetime period).
Will also writes at The Quantum Lobe Chronicles when he’s not busy with grad school over at Yeshiva University