After infiltrating Culture Hack North as a product designer I asked; ‘what if you make yourself a souvenir?’
Here I am talking about souvenirs on a number of levels; the making process – can the non-designer participate in designing and making and is simply existing and being, material enough for the shaping of souvenirs.
It is always good to think about what we mean by souvenirs. The term comes from French to ‘recall, remember’ and from latin to ‘come to mind.’
We understand souvenirs primarily as mementos used to commemorate people, places and events and we we traditionally think of mass produced, often tacky items such as snowglobes and fridge magnets, decorative objects that serve no obvious function. We think of mass produced goods lined up in tourist stores transported home as a mechanism for remembering one’s visit.
However the souvenirs that often mean most to us are items never originally intended as souvenirs. We capture moments and experiences in many ways, we take photos, videos, we make footprints of our children to capture their impossible smallness, we mark the passing of time and the growth of our by engraving marks on walls and diaries, we become so precious about these little measurements. We collect items intended originally as disposable to remember events and experiences in time and space. Sometimes, instead of taking things home we leave objects in places of significance marking our firsts, our lasts, our loves and our losses.
It is here that the function of souvenirs actually emerges, it is on loss that souvenirs function. They mark our attempts to capture that which we cannot hold onto. We essentially outsource our memory into these objects and without the owner’s input, the object’s meaning is invisible and cannot be articulated.
So I am wondering, can we use these intangibles as materials in the making process? Of course the traditional souvenirs I have mentioned are legacy from the mass production paradigm, but with the convergence of the digital and physical in iot and digital fabrication… it becomes possible to create highly personalised souvenirs drawing upon these interactions and experiences.
A few examples of designers and developers attempting to do just this;
Social Memories; Deusche Post have created an application that enables Facebook users to create a book of their digital interactions while The Really Interesting Group alongside Andy Huntington are in the process of creating a system for the generation of Datadecs, physical infographics of your travel, media consumption and generation. They have recently launched Frtsee… the fabricated snowman that is proportioned according to your twitter activity.
We generate data in almost all our interactions, and in the passive means by which our devices listen to and betray us we can use this data. James Bridle created a book of maps documenting his travels using the location data that his iPhone secretly collected
We can even go so far as to attempt to physicalise the passing of time, this being a clock that knits as time passes and drop digital pins in digital maps to create physical markers of the places we have existed. I can utter your name or capture the sound of you in a physical artifact. In a more embodied context Be your own souvenir by BLab demonstrated the joy and curiosity of creating a miniature self using 3D scanning and printing. In this way, the lines on the wall marking our growth become much more interesting. Infact we can go so far as to fabricate things from our remains, this a fabrication from the ashes of Anne Lindeboom who died in 1984.
And so, what I am saying in this, as the product designer in the room is that with the convergence of the digital and the physical and with our tendancies to generate data through existing and being we are reaching a point in which the creation of highly personalised objects is possible. In creating highly personalised objects however their transferability and generalisability is reduced. In which case the objects become souvenirs of ourselves and souvenirs in themselves.