Adding that spark of magic to digital devices is the secret ingredient in the success of many products and services. That spark is often personalization; the concept of a device or service being mine and for only me, building an attachment to transcend the mere bundle of plastic and circuitry in front of you. Researchers at the University Of Newcastle have been working on ways to make more emotionally meaningful forms of digital communication by producing what they are calling "Lovers' Boxes". Resembling an antique wooden jewellery box, each conceals the latest technology to play back messages recorded by a loved one.
A trial of the technology used five couples that recorded romantic messages to one another. The boxes, made from four different types of wood, cherry, beech, apple and walnut, are ornately carved with brass hinges and an antique keyhole at the front. A computer incorporating a RFID reader is inside, hidden from view. Opening the box, a screen becomes visible in the lid framed by wood to continue on the antique come precious theme. Unlocking the box with the RFID tagged key starts the video message played in a portrait orientation. Unlike the usual 16:9 landscape format of typical video playback, it attempts to give you the sense of something different, something special. Without the key, the message cannot be played.
Anja Thieme, the lead researcher on the project explains, "The aesthetic appeal of these objects, with the mix of the antique wooden box that has to be unlocked with a physical key is really important in terms of keeping the personal messages between partners private and treasured".
The couples created video by working with a digital media artist. Video as opposed to photos or text was chosen for emotional impact though the boxes could display text and pictures. The messages were personalized further with the ability to configure a specific date and time and the facility to limit the number of times a message could be played.
The research findings showed that participants perceived their box as a memento or interactive storybook of their meaningful experiences and looked at the exchange of video as an enjoyable shared hobby with their partner. The couples would treat their box carefully and stow it away like a family heirloom.
"The process of reflecting on what content to present, of putting effort into the creation of the video and handing the box over to their beloved was perceived as giving a gift of high personal significance," said Ms Thieme. "In this sense, the interaction with the box created space for partners to display mutual social and emotional support and to feel valued and loved.
So will this mix of old and new take off? I can see the use of these boxes not only for lovers but going further as a special gift for your child, parents and loved ones. A much more personal and special gift than a file embedded in an email – just don't forget which box goes with which key!
Source: Newcastle University
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