With each passing year, our memories become increasingly intertwined with digital data. Snapshots get saved instantly as pixels rather than Polaroids; mementos get stuffed into file folders instead of shoeboxes. Our technological moment has given us the ability to stockpile more of these memories than ever before, in higher quality and without the risk of dust or decay. But it raises a pressing question: what good are all those memories if we never actually remember them?
For her thesis project at the Istituto Europeo di Design, in Madrid, Vanessa Redondo set out to create a set of USB drives that would give some tangible embodiment to the files that we create so effortlessly and archive without a second thought. The project, Memories, provides accommodations for three types of digital experiences—life, work, and secrets—each with its own unique, physical form.
The first, intended to store things like vacation photos, comes as a series of all-white branches that fit together into a single, larger tree limb. Not the most practical form, in terms of convenient storage, but at least you won’t forget it’s there.
The other two are a bit more compelling. One is a drive in the form of a pendant, hanging from a necklace, intended to carry your deepest darkest secrets with you wherever you go. Diary entries, sexts, embarrassing GarageBand recordings—whatever. No matter how comfortably our computers become enveloped in the cloud, there are some things you want to keep close by.
Most compelling, though, is the design for storing work-related files. It’s a set of jagged, green and white ceramic USB drives that fit onto a wooden board, taking the shape of an abstracted cityscape. "Each building represents one project," Redondo writes. "Inspired by Caracas, with its own dynamic way, it is changing and growing with us."
Now, on-going work projects are one place where an orderly hierarchy of file folders unequivocally is a better storage solution. But Redondo’s project does acknowledge a very real problem: once we’re done with files, for work or otherwise—once they leave our desktops proper and get shuffled deeper into our file systems—they’re essentially forgotten. Instead of digital scrapbooks or personal museums, what we really end up with on our hard drives is a nested labyrinth of anodyne storage units.
Redondo’s project may be more interesting conceptually than as a practical, real world solution for file storage. But it’s operating in important territory. Just because we now have the ability to make memories that are entirely digital—weightless and odorless, untouchable, unsympathetic and effectively non-existent outside of our computers—doesn’t mean that’s the best way keep those memories around.