meantime, those traces help preservethe common heritage of the communityand strengthen its identity.
Anticipating future uses throughdesign. Applying the insights fromour fieldwork, here we illustrate somepossible ways of interacting withdecades’ worth of traces at some pointin the future. The three design conceptsdescribed below embody the followingprinciples we learned: leaving tracesin their original place and in everydaythings, leveraging traces’ power to bothinform and evoke, and preserving thesocial context in which traces can besaved, encountered, and reused.
The first concept, Footprints, isa system that overlays aggregatedpatterns of previous occupants’ indoormovements on top of the current floorplan of the house, presumably onelectronic paper. The goal of Footprintsis to give the current occupants a bettersense of the space’s prior layout andflow. For example, a trail of footprintsthrough the window of the dining roomimplies that there used to be a doorwayto the outside.
While Footprints mostly servesa practical purpose, Phantoms isdesigned to evoke users’ reflection andimagination by presenting snapshots ofprevious occupants’ indoor locations.As an ambient display, Phantoms playsback snapshots of indoor location tracesin a mysterious if not random order.The purpose is not to inform but toevoke the viewer’s own memory of thepast. To understand its user experience,let us consider the following scenario:
Repetitively seeing Phantoms displayingthree pairs of footprints in the familyroom, Harry, a middle-aged man from the2040s, speculates that the family who livedhere at some point might have a routineof watching TV together after dinner. Itreminds him of his childhood, when therewas still a TV in his parents’ house. Hecannot help but readjust his glasses, withwhich he and everyone else watch “TV”nowadays...
The third design concept,
Stewards, addresses the problem that
homeowners’ interactions with locals
who know their houses, as in Lisa’s
case, are becoming increasingly rare.
To facilitate collective curation and
interpretation of traces, Stewards
creates a closed online micro-
community for people associated
with a house. For example, previous
occupants, guests, contractors, and
neighbors can join the community
anonymously or under pseudonyms.
In each micro-community, the
current owner of the house can learn the
house’s history and ask about “puzzles”
found in the house. But more important,
we envision that this can serve as a
virtual drawer where homeowners in
the future can easily deposit digital
traces related to their houses upon or
after moving out, just like many of their
present-day counterparts did with paper
records: simply leaving them behind in a
drawer, usually located in the kitchen.
A final reflection. Our fieldwork
shows that traces, however humble and
trivial they might initially appear, can
serve to facilitate a sense of heritage
as people find meaning in and through
them. Compared with their physical
counterparts, digital traces are at once
more persistent and ephemeral; they
are easier to retrieve and easier to bury.
These conflicting properties of digital
traces require us to make a conscious
and creative effort to imagine and
anticipate how the captured traces of
our everyday activities might be useful
for the people who come after us for
both practical and evocative purposes.
Furthermore, it is important to consider
how we can cultivate a favorable social
context for the preservation and reuse
Our fieldwork also prompted us
to reconsider the temporality of the
privacy question. The public discourse
is increasingly obsessed with the idea of
setting an expiration date for our digital
footprints, as advocated by writer
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger [ 6], required
DOI: 10.1145/2654824 COP YRIGHT HELD B Y AUTHORS. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00Figure 4. Robert was surprised when hediscovered a nice hardwood floor coveredunder linoleum.
by European law [ 7], and implementedby Snapchat. However, we might havea cultural responsibility to allow thosetraces, even in an aggregated or abstractform only, to be recovered and accessedat some point in the future.
1. Yang, R. and Newman, M. W. Learningfrom a learning thermostat: Lessons forintelligent systems for the home. Proc. ofUbicomp’ 13. ACM, 2013, 93–102.
2. iBeacon. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,2014; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBeacon.
3. Dong, T., Ackerman, M. S., and Newman,M. W. ‘If These Walls Could Talk:’Designing with memories of places. Proc.of DIS’ 14. ACM, 2014.
4. Petrelli, D. and Whittaker, S. Familymemories in the home: Contrastingphysical and digital mementos. PersonalUbiquitous Comput. 14, 2 (2010), 153–169.
5. Kirk, D. S. and Sellen, A. On humanremains: Values and practice in the homearchiving of cherished objects. ACMToCHI. 17, 3 (2010), 10:1–10: 43.
6. Mayer-Schönberger, V. Delete: The Virtueof Forgetting in the Digital Age. PrincetonUniversity Press, 2011.
7. Streitfeld, D. European court lets userserase records on Web. The New YorkTimes, May 13, 2014; http://www.
Tao Dong is a Ph.D. candidate at the Schoolof Information at the University of Michigan.His current research explores implications oflong-term automatic capture of sensor data inubiquitous computing environments, especiallythe prospect of using such data as resourcesfor reflection and as new forms of memory.→
Mark W. Newman is an associateprofessor in the School of Information andthe Department of Electrical Engineeringand Computer Science at the Universityof Michigan. His research interests are inhuman-computer interaction and ubiquitouscomputing, with a focus on support forinteraction design and end-user configuration.→
Mark S. Ackerman is the GH MeadCollegiate Professor of Human-ComputerInteraction and a professor in the School ofInformation and the Department of ComputerScience at the University of Michigan. He haspublished widely in HCI and CSCW, includingabout collective memory, social computing,and pervasive environments. He is a memberof the CHI Academy.→
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