Digitally extending the life of consumer goods

Can a post-digital storytelling technique give our consumer goods longer and more valuable lives?

Do objects have stories? Or even histories?

A charity in the UK thinks they do, and is aiming to use technology to tell those stories to new purchasers. As reported by the BBC, Oxfam is allowing people who donate objects for sale in its charity shops to record something of why that object was meaningful to them, which the subsequent purchaser can then access via a QR code attached to the item. They can then go on to add to that item's story, if they wish. They call this Oxfam Shelflife:

Ever wondered about the stories behind some of the items you find in Oxfam shops – before they were sold to raise money for Oxfam’s poverty-busting work around the world? With Shelflife, you can find out – and share stories of your own experiences with Oxfam donated items.

But do items have intrinsic stories like this? For me, they certainly do. A little while ago I donated a mug to our local Cancer Research shop. There was a story behind it – I'd bought it when staying in a holiday flat with my mother, while she underwent chemotherapy in a nearby hospital. The flat didn't have any mugs, and teas was as vital to my Mum as coffee is to me, so off I went in search of mugs – and I found two for sale (discounted) in a nearby shop.

Had this service been available to me locally, I could have passed the story of that mug onto whomever is its new owner. And that history might make it a more valuable object – or, at least, that's the hope of the trial. The app is iPhone-only for the time being.

The concept isn't restricted to Oxfam shops, though. It's built on the Tales of Things technology, which has both iOS and Android apps for you to play with, and which you can use to attach to anything you want to give away or sell. The online platform in the work of researchers from several different universities, and they have a very interesting concept they're calling “homemade media”:

In the context of social media and Web 2.0, homemade is also often referred to as user-generated content. What we mean is that you record or write a story about your chosen object yourself, either on video, audio, in images, text, or a combination of the above, and upload this tale to the Internet for others to see or hear. We call such stories and memories tales, not because we would necessarily want you to tell tales (in the sense of making things up), but because we feel that the term gives you a wide range of options of how to share your objects history with others. In other words, we hope that your tale will tell others why an object is important to you. The term also makes for a nice acronym, TOTeM, for Tales of Things and Electronic Memory. A totem pole of course contains a number of carvings which traditionally tell a clan or tribes stories and histories. Fitting, dont you think?!

Yes, I do. And I think giving new value and new life to these objects which were, traditionally, at the end of their consumer journey brings a whole new level of meaning to the green concept of reuse – and that the blending of the physical and the digital is a practical example of post-digital at work.

[via Brilliant Noise]