Personal possessions as cues for autobiographical remembering

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An encounter with personal possessions in everyday life, such as souvenirs, jewellery, or digital photos, may bring the past back to mind. Sometimes this is a quick and fleeting memory, other times it brings back vivid memories and emotional responses. The research presented in this thesis investigates personal possessions as cues: The cued responses personal possessions evoke, how the item-memories relationship evolves, and what characteristics of items facilitate cued remembering. The phenomenon of the activation of memories is what we call ‘cuing’ and the memories of personal experiences of one’s individual life ‘autobiographical memories’ (Conway & Pleydell-Pearce 2000). Academia and industry have been developing products aiming to cue personal memories in everyday life. In the last few decades, the interest in design for remembering in the field of human-computer interaction has increased, with many new technologies facilitating remembering and storytelling (Van den Hoven 2014; Van den Hoven, Sas & Whittaker 2012). Especially the ease and growth of capturing media digitally, for example with cameras and mobile phones, inspired the development of new products and research prototypes to facilitate remembering. This motivated us to investigate the process of cued remembering by personal possessions, and how the item-memories relationship comes into existence to enable cued remembering. A better understanding of cued remembering may improve designs for remembering. Through three qualitative studies, this PhD research aimed to provide insight into the aspects influencing the item-memories relationship and the process of cued remembering, for physical as well as digital items. We found that different uses of personal items could influence their potential to cue memories, and also tensions in the relationship with possessions affected their potential to cue. We found that possessions could cue different types of responses and that these items had particular characteristics. From a longitudinal study, we found several reasons why cued responses by personal possessions changed over time. Based on interviews with repair professionals and object owners, we gained insights into the role of possessions’ traces and ageing on cued remembering. At the end of this thesis, we reflect on and discuss how the gained knowledge can facilitate design for remembering with design considerations for designers.
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