Digital media may not wear or tear or warp or fade, but that preservation comes at a steep price. It means sacrificing the built-in nostalgia of handling old stuff—forgoing the joy of poring over old photo albums or rooting through dusty boxes of once-beloved CDs. There’s simply no digital equivalent for these things. And as long as we keep storing those memories as so many files in so many folders, the thrill of rediscovering them will never quite be the same.
That’s the problem Jon Stam and Simon de Bakker are trying to tackle with their Bioscope, a handheld device that liberates digital clips from the aseptic world of the desktop video player. The concept is simple: you load your desired clip onto a USB stick, pop it in the back of the plastic device, and press your eye to the built-in lens. There, on a micro LCD screen, you’ll see your video.
But you don’t just press play and let it wash over you. You’ll have to turn a red crank on the side of the device to actually watch the clip. Turning it faster or slower affects playback speed correspondingly, pausing for a moment lets you linger on a specific frame, and twirling the crank in the other direction actually plays the clip in reverse.
It’s a simple, almost childish interaction—the device borrowed its shape from an old Fisher Price movie player—but it transforms the viewer’s relationship with their video clips in a fairly profound way. For one, the Bioscope makes for a more intimate experience—a sort of handheld cinema with an audience of one. But it’s a much more active type of viewing, too. With the hand-crank responsible for moving the clip along, you can’t skip ahead. You can’t multitask. And as a result, you end up far more engaged with every frame.
For Stam, who recently won a W Hotels Designers of the Future Award, that heightened sense of engagement was precisely the point. With Bioscope, he hoped to find a new way to experience all those digital clips that get collected but are rarely revisited. "Our meaningful digital things are thrown into the air or into a black box rather than displayed, cared for, and reflected upon," he says. "We have a critical view of the trend of the disappearing interface. We believe in simple but playful interfaces."
And while it’s become increasingly simple over last two decades to stockpile photos and videos in digital form, an emerging class of tools and technologies will enable us to find more tangible and more meaningful ways to interact with them all. The Bioscope is powered by a $30 Raspberry Pi mini-computer, encased inside a 3-D printed shell. "We now live in a time where we can dream and make our own devices to save and share our memories," Stam says. "I think this is very exciting."