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The Future of Looking Back (Microsoft Research) [Paperback]

Richard Banks

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Book Description

8 Oct 2011 Microsoft Research (Book 1)

What will we leave behind in this new digital age? As digital technology takes an ever-increasing role in our lives, one question is how we’ll manage our collections after we’re gone. What takes the place of shoeboxes full of pictures and dog-eared record albums? Get an inside look at Microsoft researcher Richard Banks’s thinking about how we might manage the digital artifacts and content we’re creating now—and how we might pass on or inherit these kinds of items in the future.

About the Microsoft Research Series

At Microsoft Research, we’re driven to imagine and to invent. Our desire is to create technology that helps people realize their full potential, and to advance the state of the art in computer science. The Microsoft Research series shares the insights of Microsoft researchers as they explore the new and the transformative.


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More About the Author

I'm principal interaction designer in the Socio-Digital Systems group, part of Computer Mediated Living in Microsoft Research's Cambridge facility, based in the UK. I work primarily with Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, a husband and wife team of social scientists (one a psychologist the other a sociologist). With others in this interdisciplinary team we're focussed on the reality of life. It's complex, frantic and unique to each individual and family, and traditional software and technology solutions don't usually fit smoothly into it. We're looking at ways in which technology can fit into the complexities of life, rather then insisting on the reverse.

Currently I'm very interested in thinking about the long-term impact of technology in our lives, and particularly about living with our digital things for 30 or 40 years, potentially passing them down through the generations, as we do with physical things. I call this topic Technology Heirlooms, and wrote extensively about it in my book, The Future of Looking Back.

In addition to project work I maintain a blog about technology trends. This primarily contains pointers and extracts from articles about new technologies and the ways in which people are using them. Some of this content, and some other bits more generally about design, end up on my twitter feed.

Product Description

About the Author

Richard Banks is an interaction designer in the Microsoft Research Socio-Digital Systems group, part of the Computer Mediated Living group in the Microsoft Research Cambridge facility. He works primarily on the design of new user experiences for people’s everyday lives.


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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What to Leave Behind 13 Dec 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a thoughtful essay on impermanence and memory. The impermanence of the life experiences we have, both personally and related to us by our families and friends, and the ways in which we remember them, including audio and visual recording, photographs, collected memorabilia, that old baseball glove, the ski parka you had at age 12, the bronzed baby shoe, the list goes on and one. Digital pundits have been talking about these issues ever since we started recording on floppies and hard disks. Many of the early discussions centered around the format of recordings, would we always have AVI or WMV or MP3 formats, would we be able to read them in 50 years, 100 years, or would their technology be obsolete. Along with that would come a discussion of the limited lifespan of digital and optical media, even if we could read the formats of the recordings we'd kept, would the recordings still be there?

The author extends these discussions in several ways, detailing ways we can record our lives online by contributing to social sites such as Facebook (will Facebook even be around in 50 years?), using a GPS based system to keep track of everywhere we go, another app to keep track of the music we listen to, the movies we watch, another one to record the weather we experience every day. We can now do 3D records and recreations of the people we know, the objects we treasure, what will we come up with next?

But for me the most telling vignette is his telling of looking through 200 photos left by his grandfather in an old suitcase. Those photos told a story of his grandfather that he'd never known. And he contrasts the impact of those 200 photos with the ~ 200,000 photos that he expects to leave behind. It seems that the more we leave behind, the less meaning there is per momento. Maybe we should concentrate on a few well chosen momentos, rather than a hopelessly large collage.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful look at how digital technology can affect ways people reminisce, preserve memories, and transmit personal legacies 25 Nov 2011
By E. Jaksetic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The author, associated with Microsoft Research Cambridge (UK), explores the impact that digital technology can have on how people reminisce about their past, preserve their memories, and transmit personal legacies to their families and loved ones. The author discusses how the similarities and differences between physical objects and digital technology can influence and affect the ways: (1) that people reminisce, preserve memories, and transmit personal legacies; and (2) how people receive and preserve the legacies bequeathed to them. The book contains some interesting observations about how the transmitters and receivers of preserved memories and personal legacies can have very different perspectives about the same things, and how those different perspectives can be shaped or influenced by the digital or non-digital means used for recording and storing memories and legacies.

The author's commentary and discussion are based on a mix of personal observations, comments about other people's experiences, references to various digital devices (some implemented and others experimental), and speculation about potential new digital devices. Each chapter ends with a brief "Design challenges" section that poses rhetorical questions to stimulate the reader's thinking about the topics and ideas explored in the chapter. The author does not use footnotes in the text, but provides a References section at the end of the book with citations to references listed for each chapter.

The book is a thoughtful and occasionally evocative exploration of how we reminisce, preserve memories, and transmit and receive personal legacies. It explores serious and deeply personal topics in a manner that is fairly down-to-earth, relatively jargon-free, and readily understandable to readers without any particular level of training or experience with digital technology.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and thoughtful - but not for everybody 15 Oct 2011
By Michael - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Under the stair well is an old suitcase full of photos and other memorabilia gathered over the past couple of generations of my family. Somewhere in the ether are several thousand photos that appear when bidden on any computer linked into our household network, as well as my iPhone and iPad. If I want I can even share those photos with the world through flicker, Facebook or any other of the various social media channels.

And that is what Richard Banks' The Future of Looking Back is all about.

As the tactile gives way to the digital, the way we experience our past is changing - in some ways for the better, in others for the poorer, but mostly in ways unknown. Banks explores the implications of the digital world for the way we interact with the artefacts of our past. It is an interesting read moving steadily from insight to insight with an easy mix of hard analysis and personal reflections. Written as part of the Microsoft research program, The Future of Looking Back charts some of the design opportunities and challenges the development of the next generation of technologies - as such it will appeal both to those with an interest in designing technology as well as those, like me, who are curious about how technology influences our way of living.

Don't expect any earth-shattering revelations or an exciting journey through a high-tech mythical future. Instead, Banks lays out a plausible and pragmatic vision for technologies that seem in most cases just a matter of years, or perhaps months away. This is a book that won't appeal to everyone, but it is an intelligent and thoughtful exploration of an important subject that has largely escaped attention.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Technology of Reminiscing 10 Oct 2011
By SpinDoctor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Future of Looking Back

Banks creates an amazingly readable analysis of how we use objects to remember. From photographs to journals to data to video and more, we gets us to consider what makes meaningful artifacts for reminiscence and viewing a life. He sprinkles the end of his chapters with thought-provoking questions on how we might plan and execute creation, collection, storage and use of these objects.

Working at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, he could certainly have produced a hard-to-follow, complex technical tome. Instead, its 141 pages (plus supporting references) are clear and concise. He divides the subject into the nature of the objects we use to remember, the hows and whys of reminiscence, and new and pending tools for doing so

The only thing that stopped me was a series of design questions at chapter ends. I was compelled to think about how I deal with my pictures and other paper and digital objects.

I hope he has a follow-up book. It could deal with examples of designing and executing the big, honking collections of objects we can produce. Getting them so that they will be useful for ourselves and others is a whole other matter. I bet he has categorized, sorted and prioritized his digital life.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Future of Looking Back 11 Nov 2011
By tjain - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Future of looking back is book which very clearly and concisely take you journey where you learn effects of technology on common people. The book is well written and easy read. Banks creates a world where he takes you slowly and see how transition is happening from physical to virtual, analog to digital.

In the end of each chapter, design challenges are fantastic and provide a quite peek into Bank's designer brain.

This book is certainly good read.
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