Many parents confess a strong attachment to books they read to their children at bedtime; often keeping and cherishing these books long after their children have left home. If e-readers replace physical books, will parents who read digital stories to their children instead develop an attachment to a particular device, or digital file?
We live in a world increasingly filled with virtual possessions. I re-cast digital data and information as virtual possessions to research this topic against the backdrop of over a century of research in the humanities and social sciences on the roles that materials possessions play in supporting and mediating people’s identity construction processes. Virtual possessions to include the many objects that are losing their lasting material form, such as books, music, photos, plane tickets, and money. In addition, I also consider them to include things that never traditionally had a material form, such as video game avatars; electronic messages including email, SMS, IM and status updates; social networking profiles; personal behavior logs, such as purchase histories; visited locations from services such as brightkite.com; and a listing of activities, such as jogging routes from MapMyRun.com. The convergence of social and cloud computing, along with the growing presence of mobile media players and networked mobile phones/computers has produced a world in which people both carry and ubiquitously access large collections of virtual possessions.
I conducted extensive fieldwork with teenagers in their bedrooms in the midwestern region on the United States to understand how they were drawing on virtual possessions in their everyday lives as resources develop a sense of who they are and who they will become in the future.
This initial work catalyzed offered a designerly perspective of virtual possessions as a resource for people’s value construction activities; a perspective that draws on the theories of material practices and material possession attachment. It also detailed three major opportunity areas potential paradoxes around value construction with immaterial things for the HCI community: value in accrual of social metadata; value in placelessness and presence; and value in curation and presentation of self to multiple audiences. This work received a Best Paper Award at the CHI 2011 conference.
Odom, W. Zimmerman, J., Forlizzi, J. (2011). Teenagers and Their Virtual Possessions: Design Opportunities and Issues. In proceedings of SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Vancouver, Canada. CHI ’11. ACM Press, 1491-1500. Local Copy, ACM Link) Best Paper Award
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