Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 321–333 | Cite as

An internet of old things as an augmented memory system

  • Ralph BarthelEmail author
  • Kerstin Leder Mackley
  • Andrew Hudson-Smith
  • Angelina Karpovich
  • Martin de Jode
  • Chris Speed
Original Article


The interdisciplinary Tales of Things and electronic Memory (TOTeM) project investigates new contexts for augmenting things with stories in the emerging culture of the Internet of Things (IoT). Tales of Things is a tagging system which, based on two-dimensional barcodes (also called Quick Response or QR codes) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, enables the capturing and sharing of object stories and the physical linking to objects via read and writable tags. Within the context of our study, it has functioned as a technology probe which we employed with the aim to stimulate discussion and identify desire lines that point to novel design opportunities for the engagement with personal and social memories linked to everyday objects. In this paper, we discuss results from fieldwork with different community groups in the course of which seemingly any object could form the basis of a meaningful story and act as entry point into rich inherent ‘networks of meaning’. Such networks of meaning are often solely accessible for the owner of an object and are at risk of getting lost as time goes by. We discuss the different discourses that are inherent in these object stories and provide avenues for making these memories and meaning networks accessible and shareable. This paper critically reflects on Tales of Things as an example of an augmented memory system and discusses possible wider implications for the design of related systems.


Internet of things Augmented memory system QR codes RFID tags Semantic web Narrative 



The authors would like to thank the people that participated in this research, all partners in the Tales of Things and electronic Memory (TOTeM) project and the Research Councils UK for funding this research through a Digital Economy grant.


  1. 1.
    Engels D, Foley J, Waldrop J, Sarma S, Brock D (2001) The networked physical world: an automated identification architecture. In: Proceedings of 2nd IEEE workshop on internet applications, IEEE Computer Soc, pp 76–77Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Guinard D (2009) Towards the web of things: web mashups for embedded devices. In: MEM 2009 in proceedings of WWW 2009. ACMGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Thorne A (2000) Personal memory telling and personality development. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 4(1):45–56MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Zerubavel E (1996) Social memories: steps to a sociology of the past. Qual Sociol 19(3):283–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sas C, Dix A (2006) Designing for collective remembering. In: CHI ‘06 extended abstracts on human factors in computing systems. ACM, Montréal, pp 1727–1730Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Petrelli D, Whittaker S (2010) Family memories in the home: contrasting physical and digital mementos. Pers Ubiquitous Comput 14(2):153–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hoven EVD, Eggen B (2008) Informing augmented memory system design through autobiographical memory theory. Pers Ubiquitous Comput 12(6):433–443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Turkle S (2007) Evocative objects: things we think with. MIT Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Miller D (2008) The comfort of things. Polity Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hoven EVD (2004) Exploring graspable cues for everyday recollecting. In: Ferscha A, Mattern F (eds) Pervasive 2004 conference proceedings. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    van Dijck J (2004) Mediated memories: personal cultural memory as object of cultural analysis. Continuum J Media Cult Stud 18(2):261–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Petrelli D, Whittaker S, Brockmeier J (2008) AutoTopography: what can physical mementos tell us about digital memories? In: Proceedings of the 26th annual SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM, Florence, pp 53–62)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Csíkszentmihályi M, Rochberg-Halton E (1981) The meaning of things: domestic symbols and the self. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    O’Hara K, Tuffield M, Shadbolt N (2008) Lifelogging: issues of identity and privacy with memories for life. In: Conference or workshop item. Retrieved 17 May 2011, from
  15. 15.
    Stevens MM, Abowd GD, Truong KN, Vollmer F (2003) Getting into the living memory box: family archives & holistic design. Pers Ubiquitous Comput 7(3–4):210–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Gaver B, Dunne T, Pacenti E (1999) Design: cultural probes. Interactions 6(1):21–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Petrelli D, Hoven EVD, Whittaker S (2009) Making history: intentional capture of future memories. In: Proceedings of the 27th international conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM, Boston, pp 1723–1732Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Frohlich D, Kuchinsky A, Pering C, Don A, Ariss S (2002) Requirements for photoware. In: Proceedings of the 2002 ACM conference on computer supported cooperative work. ACM, New Orleans, pp 166–175Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Nunes M, Greenberg S, Neustaedter C (2009) Using physical memorabilia as opportunities to move into collocated digital photo-sharing. Int J Hum Comput Stud 67(12):1087–1111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Connelly FM, Clandinin DJ (1990) Stories of experience and narrative inquiry. Educ Res 19(5):2–14Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Bruner J (1991) The narrative construction of reality. Crit Inq 18. Retrieved from
  22. 22.
    Phoenix C, Sparkes AC (2009) Being Fred: big stories, small stories and the accomplishment of a positive ageing identity. Qual Res 9(2):219–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Oleksik G, Brown L (2008). Sonic gems: exploring the potential of audio recording as a form of sentimental memory capture. In: BCS-HCI ‘08: proceedings of the 22nd British HCI group annual conference on HCI 2008: people and computers XXII: culture, creativity, interaction, vol 1. Retrieved from
  24. 24.
    Petrelli D, Villar N, Kalnikaite V, Dib L,Whittaker S (2010) FM radio: family interplay with sonic mementos. In: Proceedings of the 28th international conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM, Atlanta, pp 2371–2380Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Enquist H, Tollmar, K (2008) The memory stone: a personal ICT device in health care. In: Proceedings of the 5th Nordic conference on human–computer interaction: building bridges. ACM, Lund, pp 103–112Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Glos, JW, Cassell J (1997) Rosebud: technological toys for storytelling. In: CHI ‘97 extended abstracts on human factors in computing systems: looking to the future. Atlanta, ACM, pp 359–360Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Barthel R, Hudson-Smith A, De Jode M, Blundell, B (2010) Tales of things: the internet of ‘old’ things: collecting stories of objects, places and spaces. Presented at the 1st international workshop the Urban internet of things, internet of things 2010, Tokyo, JapanGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hutchinson H, Hansen H, Roussel N, Eiderbäck B, Mackay W, Westerlund B, Bederson BB et al. (2003) Technology probes. In: Proceedings of the conference on human factors in computing systems—CHI ‘03, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, p 17Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Lidwell W, Holden K, Butler J (2003) Universal principles of design. Rockport Publishers, BeverlyGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Myhill C (2004) Commercial success by looking for desire lines. In: Masoodian M, Jones S, Rogers B (eds) Computer human interaction. 6th Asia Pacific conference, APCHI 2004, Springer, Rotorua, pp 293–304. Retrieved from
  31. 31.
    Kuniavsky M (2010) Smart things: ubiquitous computing user experience design, 1st edn. Morgan Kaufmann, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Ochs E, Capps L (2001) Living narrative: creating lives in everyday storytelling. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Leder K, Karpovich A (forthcoming) Touching tales: emotion in digital object memories. In: Kuntsman A, Karatzogianni A (eds) Digital cultures and the politics of emotions: feelings, affect and technological change. Palgrave Macmillan, BasingstokeGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Hoskins J (1998) Biographical objects: how things tell the story of people’s lives. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Kopytoff I (1986) The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process. In: Appadurai A (ed) The social life of things: commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 64–91Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Gosden C, Marshall Y (1999) The cultural biography of objects. World Archaeol 31(2):169–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Zafiroglu A, Asokan A (2006) At home in the field: from objects to lifecycles. Ethnogr Prax Ind Conf Proc 1:138–143Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Benedek J, Miner T (2002) Measuring desirability: new methods for evaluating desirability in a usability lab setting. Presented at the UPA 2002: humanizing design, Orlando, FloridaGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Selwyn N, Gorard S, Furlong J, Madden L (2003) The information aged: of older adults’ use of information and communications technology in everyday life. Ageing Soc 23:561–582CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Coleman R (2001) Living longer: the new context for design. Design Council, London. Retrieved from
  41. 41.
    Harley D, Fitzpatrick G (2008) YouTube and intergenerational communication: the case of Geriatric1927. Univers Access Inf Soc 8(1):5–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ralph Barthel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kerstin Leder Mackley
    • 2
  • Andrew Hudson-Smith
    • 1
  • Angelina Karpovich
    • 3
  • Martin de Jode
    • 1
  • Chris Speed
    • 4
  1. 1.Centre for Advanced Spatial AnalysisUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Social SciencesLoughborough UniversityLoughboroughUK
  3. 3.School of Engineering and DesignBrunel UniversityUxbridgeUK
  4. 4.Schools of Architecture and Landscape ArchitectureEdinburgh College of ArtEdinburghScotland, UK

Personalised recommendations