Situated Remembering with Digital Technologies

Digital technologies, particularly ubiquitous, social and cloud computing, provide new opportunities and challenges for human memory which have led researchers in HCI to consider ‘The Future of Looking Back’. Technologies from the papyrus scroll to the digital photograph have mediated what is remembered and how it is shared and reflected upon. Social media, smart phones and sophisticated sensing capabilities have the potential to provide incredibly detailed records of everyday life. This thesis seeks to understand the human experience of remembering as we individually and collectively, interact with these records, each providing a particular lens on the past. Moving beyond pure ‘life-logging’, and efforts to simply externalise or augment human memory, my focus, following Harper among others, is on ‘memory-as-a-resource-for-action’, questioning the value, or work done through digitally-mediated remembering as it occurs as an everyday, situated activity.

The focus for this thesis will be on the growing trend in personal informatics, personal data which can be captured through sensors embedded in smartphones and wearable devices, or is routinely generated simply through lives lived out increasingly online. Evidenced in the extreme by the burgeoning ‘Quantified Self’ movement, this data includes tracking one’s running using a smartphone app or one’s music listening habits using scrobbling services such as LastFm. Recording often mundane activities and habits, the trend of self-tracking has been well-documented in HCI, especially in relation to encouraging behaviour change, however much less consideration has been given to how we might reflect on this data in many years to come, and how it might fit in with other more carefully curated records, such as digital photo albums.

The initial work in this project has been to conduct an interview study during which participants have reflected on historic personal informatics data they have collected. This will lead to several design provocations to open up the design space  at the intersection of remembering with digital technologies and the rise of personal informatics tools to provoke designers to reflect upon the long term use and value of the data these tools create.