Email PostcardsDesign & Field Study

People accumulate huge assortments of virtual possessions, but it is not yet clear how systems and system designers can help people make meaning from these large archives. Early research in HCI has suggested that people generally appear to value their virtual things less than their material things, but theory on material possessions does not entirely explain this difference. To investigate if changes to the form and behavior of virtual things may surface valued elements of a virtual archive, we designed a technology probe that selected snippets from old emails and mailed them as physical postcards to participating households. The probe uncovered features of emails that trigger meaningful reflection, and how contextual information can help people engage in reminiscence. This project revealed insights about how materializing virtual possessions influences factors shaping how people draw on, understand, and value those possessions. It also produced implications and strategies aimed at supporting people in having more meaningful interactions and experiences with their virtual possessions.


Gerritsen, D., Tasse, D., Olsen, J., Vlahovic, T., Gulotta, R., Odom, W., Wiese, J., Zimmerman, J. (2016, in press). Mailing Archived Emails As Postcards: Probing the Value of Virtual Archives. In Proceedings of SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. San Jose, USA. CHI ’16. ACM Press.