The future of looking back

Examining the values of legacy in the digital world.

This post originally appeared in Tim O’Reilly’s Google+ feed.

A lot of manuscripts cross my desk at O’Reilly Media. This one, “The Future of Looking Back,” which is featured as the inaugural title of a new Microsoft Research series from Microsoft Press, really caught my attention when I saw it a few months ago.

Richard Banks, the author, writes:

The Technology Heirlooms project has been all about thinking about what legacy means for the digital things in our lives. For example, in the past we took analog photos and could count them in the hundreds, maybe. Now we take digital photos, thousands of them, and post them online to share instantly with others. With the analog photos we might have just kept them in a shoebox or a photo album, which is how they would be passed on to our family. What’s the equivalent of that for digital photos? Similarly, in the past we might have written a diary, which again would be passed on to others. Now, we share our thoughts and actions online with friends, which is the closest digital equivalent to a diary and like a diary could form a valuable record of our lives once we pass away. In what form should we preserve these digital diary entries?

With this project, then, we’re interested in looking at the fundamental human values of legacy — why it feels instinctual to want to preserve and treasure the things we’ve been left by our grandparents, for example — and thinking about how those values apply in our digital world.

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