Developed in collaboration with the Oxfam charity shop in the student quarter of Manchester, a creative/technical intervention explored how memories that are attached to objects can affect consumer habits. Oxfam are a charity that has 700 shops in towns and cities across the UK. The shops receive donations of clothes and artefacts from people, and sell them on to new owners as second-hand goods. A research associate was workeding for one week in the local Oxfam shop in Manchester and asked people that dropped things off to tell a brief story about the object into a microphone e.g. where they acquired it, what memories it brings back and any associated stories. These audio tracks were then uploaded to the Audioboo service (http://www.audioboo.com) and linked to newly created talesstories on on the Tales of Things website (see section 3). One week later, with the permission of people involved, this audio track was l linked to two-dimensional barcodes and RFID tags that were attached to the objects in the shop with a custom RememberMe label. Two dimensional barcodes, commonly known as QR codes (Quick Response) are a printed paper barcode that is able to contain an internet address, and like RFID Tags can easily be associated with information or data files. Figure 1 illustrates a screenshot of a tag attached to an artefact in the Oxfam shop.
People browsed the shop used bespoke RFID readers and the Tales of Things iPhone and Android phone based applications to scan the labels. Once triggered, speakers located in the shop played back the audio stories associated with the label.
Although the team anticipated an interest in the stories, we were surprised at how affective the very individual voices were upon visitors to the shop. The actual sound of somebody’s voice associated with an object offered a supernatural extension to handling an artefact. People visiting the shop, browsing the objects and scanning the tagged donated items spoke of the “personal connections” made as artefacts conjured an actual voice that gave the object additional meaning. The red silk toiletries bag that had no history or geography was transformed into an object loaded with place and personality as the story of it’s previous owner described a shopping trip in Bangkok that involved a near death experience in a tuk tuk.
“Well my item is the little red silk make up toiletries bag its from a place called Narai in Bangkok and it was one of the very first things that I bought when I went to visit my uncle and his wide Noi who lived just outside Bangkok themselves and I believe if this is the shopping trip that I’m thinking of , I believe its also one of the very first times that I got a tuk tuk and nearly fell out, on the middle of the motorway, on the way back which I’m pretty certain it is actually so yeah that’s my story and I risked life and limb to get that toiletries bag.”
Red Toiletries bag, Anonymous donor.
The projects emphasis upon personal stories and not quantitative data such as price, temperature or other logistical data, offered a rich immaterial dimension to each objects material instantiation. The result of this supplementary information meant that every object (approximately 50 in total) was sold, even the types that are notoriously hard for a second hand shop to sell.