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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Collective Passions

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Here are a few excerpts from the past few months of brainstorming, interviews, and focus groups in regards to the topic of "collections" and its implications on the design of digital music information architecture and organization:
"I'm proud of the skills that have lead me up to this moment. These particular weapons showcase my practical and usable skills that makes me feel like I have more than other people. It's not even something I display. I would never in my life build a gun cabinet nor collect antique guns. I sell them because they're cheap or rusting and doesn't meet my personal quality standards."

"I started collecting very slowly. I like each one for its intrinsic formal quality and the different characteristics of the photos they take. The camera is a tool, but some of them have very unique features that make it worth it. I display my stuff because I like looking at them, knowing that they are there, and it's fun to talk about with other people who know about cameras."

"I collect important books because they are all displayed and I am proud of them because I've spent time and money acquiring them. I'm proud to say I've invested significant chunks of time into them. It's more for myself and as a self-reflection exercise. If it becomes a conversation piece, great. It's nice."
People, it seems, do share a common view on how they value their personal inventory, especially when it comes to collections of items they particularly care about. I believe this is built upon the idea of "ensoulment," defined by Blevis and Stolerman as "putting our souls" into something, and [in effect] the "user" or owner will recognize it and see the artifact as more valuable (Blevis and Stolterman, 2007, PDF).

During my focus group covering the topics of physical vs. digital media, I also received some interesting insights:
"There is no reason for a PC user to use iTunes. Maybe I'll lose my tech cred over this, but iTunes is the single worst thing to happen to media since someone called 128k "CD quality."

"Collections spark conversations. Online and off." 

"Digital is a completely different realm than tangible real-world items."

"People should stop trying to re-create the page flip in digital readers. It's stupid. It's not a page."
I found this to be an interesting divide in the perspective of digital interfaces. Some found the new digital media paradigm to be a negative thing, while others simply considered it different. I believe the difference is not being able to interact with our media the same way as before. Digital organization has become dependent on a keyboard and click interface.

Moreover, many have stated idea of manually organizing digital music or renaming files as worse than "mowing the lawn" or even "doing laundry." Some let iTunes take care of it, but still complain about the lack of an "embodied experience." Perhaps if digital music organization were more natural and intuitive, like the way we picked up and collected vinyl in the past, stored on our shelves, and selected when needed, it'd feel less like a chore and more like an exercise of showcasing items that define and validate our connoisseurship (some might even say, existence).
Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton describes human relationships with such objects in the home: "...those [objects] were selected by the person to attend to regularly or to have close at hand, that create permanence in the intimate life of a person, and therefore that are most involved in making up his or her identity" (From The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self, 1981). Can digital collections embedded in hard drives and computers still manage to create identity? I certainly believe so.

An aside - one nice thing about digital collections is the tried and true sustainability argument. Data takes up space, but not as much as space as vinyl or compact discs. That's pretty sweet. But like its physical media counterparts, however, digital formats still manage to face impending death whenever a new, widely accepted commercial format is introduced.

Such situations places us in the position we are today. The reason why we discard and keep certain items relies on a system that is under constant flux. But was it vinyl's tangible fragility that made it such a joy to hold and collect in the first place? Or was there something more to the experience? Can an interactive experience be designed to provide those similar sentiments and lasting impressions over time?

I plan to conduct a survey to discover just that. More to come in the upcoming weeks.

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