When a person breaks down the origin of the question ‘what’s in store for the future,’ as it applies to human beings, it is hard to deny that human futures involve a commitment to finding a ‘store,’ a place of storage, for our physical and digital memories. As proper humans, I believe it is our responsibility to keep our progeny in mind throughout the course of our lives. As our ancestors lacked the technology to provide us with primary source representation of their lives, we are posed with newer technology that is capable of giving our descendants a more thorough scrutiny of our lives. By archiving our past, present, and future, not only do we ensure our descendants a proper record of their past, but we also give ourselves an organized record of our present that we can use while we are still living. The application I am suggesting, For Your Legacy, and its associated technology, is a step needed to give people a chance to reclaim ownership of their public record.
The bleak webscape we have been offered by the seemingly corporatocratic world we live in struggles to meet the privacy, accessibility and organization needs for keeping a proper archive and account of our lives. Websites like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and blogs like Tumblr and Blogspot are functional diversions at best. They have become separate archives, but “they are distinct, rather fragmented ways to store the things that matter to us.” Their divided nature makes sense in the capitalist’s spirit of competition, but management of them all becomes a time consuming effort because they are so disparate in their models of service. (Sellen, 2011, p. 211-212). Additionally, many of these sites lack a sound, contracted guarantee that the content on their servers will remain in perpetuity. After we are long gone, how will our descendants be guaranteed access to our data if it was managed by a corporation alone without a legally bound agreement to keep it there forever? In many ways, I believe the social injustice addressed by the foundation of For Your Legacy needs to be fought on the Supreme Court level of this country. After all, “social justice involves everybody. It is not something that can happen piecemeal in a small corner of the world,” (Light & Luckin, 2008, p. 10) and I believe that intellectual control of all our memories is a right that should be claimed by all corporeal people in a binding law. In the legal climate of today, corporations, legally people as defined by the Supreme Court, are gaining more and more control as legislation is passed that benefits corporate interests over the interests of individual humans. Like the recent McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Committee, Supreme Court decisions that favor corporate inclusion in politics forebodes a need for people to consider a contract based archiving system for their data. Thus, the purpose of this essay is an attempt to explore how For Your Legacy intends to meet this need. By addressing the social justice issue of data repossession and archiving, For Your Legacy, from its inception, will be a service interested in helping people reclaim older data from the list of divergent websites, record new data and properly store all of it for the future.
My experience in my current occupation has given me pause to think about the quiet, unjust question that many corporate sharing websites are not answering. Where are we going to store our histories? I work in IT as a trainer. In my off hours at work, I had a chance to reflect on my job and conduct field research. Sitting in the courtyard of the outdoor mall where I eat my lunch, I reflected upon a woman walking with her kids in tow. She had a baby backpack on, containing a female baby of no more than a year old. Following her by hand was her son of about seven years, who was then also being followed by his younger sister of about four. Here, crossing my courtyard path, was an extant lineage in tow to consider. I imagined the woman would maybe become one of my customers a few years from now. As the events in her children’s lives became more frequent, she will start to record their experiences with expected enthusiasm. After which, she will begin asking me the questions that I am always asked in my job. Where can I store my photos of my children? Where can I store the precious videos of my baby from a few years ago? Will my memories be around after I am gone? How can my children inherit these memories? It is true that the last two questions are rarely ever asked by the young. Those questions are posited by the feeble and the unsure. These customers are the older customers who have been given a computer by their grown children. They have had a few years to acquire memories in a computer, like digital photos, videos, and journals. Yet they were born to a time when material possessions had lasting value because you could hold them and watch them deteriorate over time. They are aware of the impending entropy that can take away things you save. They know that things will be gone instantly unless you try duplicate them somewhere else. They also know their years are numbered. They understand that people need to figure out a place to store their final record. So they ask, “Is there a single, permanent place I can put all this stuff?” Alas, I tell them there is it not. What they desire is a permanent recording place. What they need is a digital time capsule that is easy to use and all in one place. This is what the world lacks right now, but there have been attempts to augment this unpromising digital scape we are experiencing.
In 1872, Samuel Clemens locked in a patent for “Mark Twain’s Self-pasting Scrapbook.” Twain spent a lot of his time saving newspaper articles for later use and was frustrated by paste, so he made a technology with pre-glued paper to accommodate his need (Good, 2012, p. 563). His need to record a permanent history is a valued part of the modern human household. Some people define their legacy only through the reproduction of their children. Like Twain, some define their legacy through both children and the work they reproduce. The common theme among many people is replication of self. If people are not reproducing children, people are reproducing experiences in print, photo, film and video. The industrial revolution exploded with technology, but it also exploded with a human fascination with being mediated by the technology. Early Twentieth Century scrapbooks consisted of people hoarding massive amounts of varied media content (Good, 2012, p. 565). Good reminds us (2012) that some of the early French theorists bemoaned the constant “streams of spectacles” offered by capitalism. She recalls that Debord thought “quality of society and social relationships declines as everyday life becomes increasingly mediated by manufactured images and representations.” (p. 565)
With the advent of visual technologies, like photos, film, and video, people began to experience “presence,” the ability to feel like they were there. Sensory media, media that adding a audio-visual element, changed the experience of memory remarkably. Rentschler comments (2004), “While audio-visual experience may not be the same thing as ‘being there’, it can nonetheless create a powerful feeling of superabundant co-presence.” (p. 299) The value we put on our photographs and videotapes is a result of our connection to these objects because of the memories we have with the people and places contained within. “The archives of the final messages left by those that died have subsequently taken on treasured status.” (Sellen, 2011, p. 212) In the theater of mass media production, the grander sensation that we get when visualizing suffering at a distance, for instance like September 11th, 2001 attacks on television or footage of the bloody Vietnam war in the Sixties, is called ‘witnessing.’ (Rentschler, 2004, p. 298) It is a similar but extreme amplification of the grief we experience when we reflect on the image of a loved one who has passed. Another modern representation of witnessing can be found on the smaller scale in the grieving we see on Facebook. On Facebook, mothers memorialize the death of their children even before they are born after a tragic miscarriage (Di Donato, 2014, Para. 9). To those still living after a tragedy, the most that Facebook offers in memoriam of their loved ones is a classification to a profile after it is reported that somebody is gone (Facebook, 2004). The setting in Facebook is designed to keep the profile from being edited, used in sales initiatives and only reserved for those who want to visit and leave warm condolences. Despite this being an official feature of Facebook’s vast set of settings, it sometimes fails. An example of this is the case of Raetaeh Parsons. Facebook used her picture in a dating ad after she had killed herself (Bolen, 2013). The memorialize setting is an example of the very ephemeral environment of Facebook being used for long-term good, but it is not enough because the person who died has no control of how it is used or even memorialized. With no knowledge of the memorializing feature, many Facebook users daily actions are an act of archiving for future memorialization. “Many people use social media to easily announce significant events like births or engagements to a broad audience.” (Marwick, 2012, p. 385) The ephemeral feeling of posting in Facebook and other social profiles in general these days proliferates broad interest in cataloguing a timeline of ourselves and others before we are gone. This is reflected in “…the impulse to perform through media in public and social ways [and] is often coupled with a private or personal desire to preserve that media for the future.” (Good, 2012, p. 569)
If one can argue that the webscape today is bleak for archiving, and humans have always had this desire to archive their history, there must be some previous attempts at achieving the final result of something like For Your Legacy in the household. Much research has been documented in Abigail Sellen’s work Family Archiving in the Digital Age, a featured chapter in the larger compilation called The Connected Home: The Future of Domestic Life. The book’s focus is to document ways that homes have been augmented for the digital age. Sellen describes the different ideas produced from brain storming in-home solutions for archiving digital history. A former Hewlett-Packard employee, Sellen recalls (2012) a series of studies she was involved in that determined the number one problem that working parents experienced was “guilt they had from not organizing family memories properly.” (p. 203) She talks about six values of home archiving: defining the self, honoring those we care about, connecting with those from our past, framing the family’s values, fulfilling duty to keep the family’s heirlooms and forgetting things and people we have lost. (p. 216). She talks about her first attempt at creating a localized “Family Archive” in three test homes. The experiment created successes and failures. “The Family Archive” was a station where objects were placed and scanned on an interactive table top screen that doubled as a home screen. The biggest success was that more interactivity resulted from older people and young children because the device’s interface was dragging objects around. The biggest failure was that the home’s archive organization got jumbled because the household’s six year old scanned in pictures of all his toys. In this attempt, she recounts that giving any person in the household access to the archiving tool undermined the basic structure of who keeps the archive in order. Basically, too many cooks were archiving in the kitchen and it created a mess (p. 226-228).
Sellen’s work is an attempt to localize the archiving process in the home. Timebox, a free app featured on Apple’s App Store and working with the iPhone, seems to be an attempt to digitize the archiving process with only a mobile application for a smart phone that is connected to a server. In this respect, it is propitious of Timebox to consider the user as the central archiver. I determined its functionality by reading reviews on the App Store. Many people seemed to enjoy the product from what I read. However, the biggest drawback I can see with using Timebox is that it mostly only works with photos and text (Pepper Networks, 2013). This doesn’t mitigate the demand for finding a place large enough to store the multitudes of video memories people can develop over time. How can a self purported ‘time’ box say they are offering an archiving solution when they are only offering 8GB of external storage for the sole purpose of photo record? This is nowhere near enough space to support years of video, sound and written archiving needs. This space quandary seems to be a common problem in the sphere of apps and online solutions to the archiving question. Besides the aforementioned problem of fragmented archiving with social apps because of their marketing basis as competitors, another problem with sites like Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr being used for archiving is that they are “commercial and incorporate capitalist logics, such as self-promotion and celebrity.” As a result, the users construct identities to manage what people think of them. (Marwick, 2012, p. 381 ) Having the digital archive maintained through a social network may limit the content a family member contributes for future generations. The panoptic effects caused by awareness in the socially networked community may stifle a user’s level of contribution to the archive (Marwick, 2012, p. 381). Principally, if the content of an archive is limited by the user this defeats the purpose of record – to leave an accurate impression of whom the user was, how they lived their life and what they truly experienced.
Sellen considers (2012) the limitations of space in the home and space in the online. She suggests that an integrated archiving system, one that marries together local solutions and web based solutions, could be an answer to the local archiving problem of too many users in a household muddying the pot (p. 223). However, I can see some trends occurring daily. More and more people are jettisoning their use of home computer terminal based systems for a mobile lifestyle. Goggin (2005) maintained, “Not only are camera phones likely to be available in a given situation, they are potentially ‘always on.” (p. 150) It lacks practicality or modernity to conceive of any archiving solution without it being centered around a mobile interface. The mobile device, such as a pad or phone, is becoming an appendage of the self. Anna Reading reports (2008) that mobile technologies are becoming “intensely personal memory devices.” One woman went so far as to keep her old phone in a drawer that had old messages. She could not figure out how to remove the messages, but the content within was so connected to experience she was afraid to lose it (p. 359). In a very short time from now, it is possible that we will see a life without a central household computer interface. The 2013 movie Her, by Spike Jonze starring Joaquin Phoenix, gives a hypothetical look at a world heavily reliant on mobile technologies. Phoenix’s character Theodore is never seen without his mobile device. In Jonze’s vision, the future world of Her is not much different looking from our own, albeit more colorful in appearance and less skeptical of technology. In an interview with Theresa Iezzi of Fast Company, Spike Jonze commented (2013) on how he saw mobile devices fitting into the hypothetical world of his story, “Early on, we started to think about the devices and the computers as just things we’d want to have in our homes and have in our pockets.” (para. 13)
Yet with similar intentions to Jonze’s hypothetical in the movie Her, the design of For Your Legacy will be to capture our lives from beyond our pockets. I believe it is important not to hinder our thinking to only what should be tactile and carried around. Mobile technology keeps augmenting to become more attached to the person. With a future prospect of sleek and unassuming nano technology at our fingertips, For Your Legacy will be a mobile terminal interface that is purchased with the intention of documenting a person’s existence. Using the biometrics of voice, touch, and sight, the FYL device and application will be a fully immersed, unobtrusive mobile appendage that is included in a person’s existence how they desire it. With glasses or contact lenses that provide an interface for sight and sound, and nano processors that can be woven into cloth, the possibility of imagining an entirely hands free archiving experience are around the corner. The visual interface will be a technology that is an invisible natural user interface (NUI) that is commanded by gestures and vocal commands. Using a NUI system versus the classic graphical user interface (GUI) system augmented by a tactile device, such as a handheld mobile smart phone or pad, will benefit the immersive and discreet nature of the technology. However, it will have both an app based and computer based GUI interface mostly for the purpose of possibly set up, settings management, data deletion, and privacy tools.
Despite an interest in embracing the future of NUI and the exciting possibilities of a commitment to providing a hands free archive experience, For Your Legacy will always be challenged by the accessibility needs of certain customers. Yet there can be many advantages to surrendering the use of artificial controls for NUI. Customers with able voice and sight, but with disabled bodies will find the NUI of For Your Legacy extremely useful. To be able to speak commands and be simply understood can be an exceptional accessibility aid to those who cannot move due to paralysis. By the same token however, those with limited vision, hearing and voice may find aspects of For Your Legacy’s interface difficult to navigate. For example, careful thought and imagination will need to be put into figuring a way to have the NUI communicate with American Sign Language. Additionally, a dynamic way for the technology to be built with a vast language database, to necessitate even the ability to understand various vocal parlance of different languages, regional vernacular and slang, will be one of the programming challenges faced by the developers of For Your Legacy. Lastly, for those with no sight, questions arise on how a NUI interface built within a set of recording contact lenses could benefit if they are never used. It should be considered how to make For Your Legacy provide a visual record without camera based contact lens support. Imagining this ideal, may require designers to include a structured option where the constant, uninterrupted nature of a customer’s story be told from a third person perspective. What technology would be needed to meet these needs should be a consideration addressed.
From a standpoint of privacy, the For Your Legacy system, from its inception, will be designed for the user’s own purposes. Data tracked about the client is private and for their own family’s personal archive – to be used in perpetuity through a contract that will be bound using the current estate and intellectual property laws. For the fees and services involved, For Your Legacy will need to enlist the finest minds to manage archiving technology that can embattle against the challenges of the long term digital archive. As highlighted by Jack Olson (2009), the management of For Your Legacy systems will have to strongly consider the long term effects of media rot, media loss, recovery and disaster recovery (p. 251). Additionally, this archive will need to be recorded at the pace of the user. For many users, For Your Legacy will need to be used with full control in their possession. They will want the ability to know when it is recording, turn it off and on, and decide when parts of it need to be discarded. They will want to have access to the archive’s structure in order to manage their content and to upload file based content like digitized family movies, audio, pictures and written content. Additionally, the need for privacy will necessitate creating confidence in the customer that what goes in the archive will be immune from government or corporate meddling. The principle of For Your Legacy is like a strong box for your history. It is the customer’s property and should never fall under the jurisdiction of larger powers.
Although from its foundation, For Your Legacy will be marketed as a hands free solution to cataloguing existence. This is a customer’s chance to build their family tree, but also to add branches as they are happening. So part of the development of For Your Legacy will be to include a private interface, similar to ancestry.com or in partnership with, in order to help a customer research their past to establish a living story of who they were and who they are for those who will be. This will always be an optional feature, but it will be there if a customer so wishes to make genealogical pursuits a priority. Additionally, a large feature of For Your Legacy will be to forge partnerships with Facebook, Google, Amazon, Dropbox and other archiving institutions in order to help customers easily retrieve selective data from the past that are still in loose leaf, dispersed status spread across many databases. The stress of embarking upon this great reclamation should be alleviated by the simplicity of account signature. High speed data transfer over a secure network to a concierge system will connect every customer’s FYL profile to the databases of their choice. The priority behind For Your Legacy’s design should always be simplicity first. This will mainly be achieved through For Your Legacy’s special brand of privacy and nucleic design.
It is a human priority to be remembered. “Rather than the personal album or shoebox of memories in the dusty cupboard, the mobile ‘archive’ suggests that even in relation to their own personal memories the individual now performs the role of public librarian or trained archivist, ordering and maintaining documents relating to the past with its concomitant status, authority and location within the public realm of the lifeworld.” (Reading, 2008, p. 362) For Your Legacy understands the importance of reigning in and consolidating this process. Subtle, and incorporated in our daily existence once initiated, it will be the one place that human beings will be able to make sense of their already concurrent process of archiving. We have reached the digital future. In a world based on service, no longer is it acceptable not to provide a service that improves our fundamental instinct to create a legacy of self. With converging technology, inconspicuous design, and the latest in massive, archiving storage capability, For Your Legacy intends to be the pioneer in the movement to reclaim our digital history.
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