Memory, Estates & Legacies in the Digital Age

People engage with digital information sources and build assets as they acquire knowledge, make informed decisions, and share insights with others. These activities help humanity advance. The fruitful exchange of information among individuals helps an information society function and prosper.

After five decades of personal computing, it is important to re-visit the common paradigms used in the design and delivery of digital technologies. The desktop metaphor for organizing and managing information has been transcended to include cloud services, mobile applications, sensor input, and machine-to-machine operations. Personal analytics have enabled the analysis of practices and physiological states to gain insights and tailor services to individuals and groups. Social computation, social media interactions, self-organizing enterprises, crowdsourcing models, and virtual reality have opened up new opportunities for engagements across the globe, transcending location and time.

Individuals engage with this rich ecosystem of digital technologies to create and use valuable digital assets that shape their lives and the society as a whole. The elements of a virtual legacy or personal digital estate are linked through the individual’s identity and personae. Ecosystem elements include school, employer and community portals and comprise both personal and institutional boundaries. Yet, at the moment, the ecosystem lacks user-centered organizing principles that would help people manage, reason about and assert control over digital interactions and digital possessions through a lifetime.

We put forward the notion of a digital estate as a new metaphor for situating digital activities and recognizing the self in the digital medium. The notion implies both privileges and responsibilities for owning a digital estate, as well as the ability to transact assets. It allows us to reason about the legal, economic, and societal frameworks within which we are empowered to acquire and use digital services, create, acquire, and share content, data and experiences, create and control digital personae and assets gleaned over life-times, and pass them on.

While the digital estate notion will have its own specific characteristics and requirements, we can draw an analogy that helps us imagine the future and articulate this vision. Akin to physical homes and services that support life within them, digital estates may comprise building blocks of hardware components, information architectures, algorithmic functions, communication services, security and privacy protections, legal frameworks for interacting with third parties, legacy relationships, and the social practices of sharing digital spaces. We seek to understand the requirements for leveraging these to enhance the human experience.

As a crucial step towards imagining the future of digital estates, we invite explorations that relate to learning and passing on knowledge. We build on the momentum established by initiatives in e-portfolios, assessment, certifications, and the frontiers of collaboration, crowdsourcing, privacy, and security. The ‘learning and education’ thread of digital estates spans all life stages, from first words as infants and kindergarten plays, to formal education, professional learning, work portfolios, leisure interests, collaboration with others (for example, publishing with colleagues or reading e-books with grandchildren), and recapitulating content for posterity.

Research Initiatives

Maneesh Agrawala: Designing an Interactive, Browsable Archive of Video-based Digital Estates

Wendy Ju: Voyage of Discovery: Capturing and Considering Multimedia Journey Narratives

Byron Reeves: Digital Estate and Identity in the New Landscape of Work

Nicholas Jenkins: Kindred Britain 2.0 – Can We Walk the Past’s Streets