Memory Mascots: bringing memory to life through mascots and collective systems of care

Team Members: Calum Bowden, Sam Matejka

Summary: Our improvement aims to enable communities like Trust – a network of utopian conspirators in Berlin and beyond – to nurture and care for “living memory” systems collaboratively, understood following Kei Kreutler as the active transmission and renewal of knowledge and lore through embodied practices and associative arrangements. In contrast to the accumulation of static and infinite “latent memory” in institutionalized archives, we explore mascots as community-specific living memory interfaces that facilitate recollection, sharing, and adaptation through emotional involvement and care.

Target Protocol: Our target is the dominant mode of interfacing with cultural archives premised on the “memory-as-data” metaphor, which portrays the world as information to be encoded, stored, and retrieved. Such archives reinforce universalizing worldviews disconnected from social contexts. We understand “memory-as-data” archives as wrapped up in protocols and patterns of conflict over “matters of fact” and truth. The act of archiving is contestatory, creating the potential for misalignment between records. In contrast, when memory lives through practice and ritual, it is less about what is true and more about its use and experience value and how knowledge is cared for or renewed.

Practically, we target the improvement of Trust’s recent archival protocol development work, including:

  • Bubble, a tool that enables Trust members to collectively decide which Discord posts to archive.
  • Bubble Voting, an extension of Bubble enabling Trust members to vote on community grant submissions through a continuous voting mechanism.
  • Mascot experiments and research, exploring mascots’ role in representing digital communities.
  • Hivemind, a game in which players build 3D memory palaces to categorize and archive an inventory containing documentation of their creative process in a way that becomes performed during live-streams.
  • Ecoscene, a game built with Museum für Naturkunde Berlin to turn an open citizen science database into a narrative world.

Core Idea: Our core insight is that mascots can serve as interfaces for living memory systems, transforming how communities interact with and create lore. Anthropologist Franca Tamisari explains that emotions and attention are central to the living memory cultures and knowledge systems of the Yolngu people of Northeast Arnhem Land, Australia. From moe anthropomorphism to clippy, the features and social affordances of mascots elicit emotions, feelings, and other psychological responses that other media cannot. Therefore, it is through emotional involvement and an ethic of care that we bring collective memory to life through mascots.

We aim to achieve this by developing an interpretation layer backend compatible with a generic storage substrate (for example, an SQL database supplemented with an object-based storage), which formulates logic for data-retrieval and entry and enables a consistent representation of a mascot’s state across a range of different touchpoints via an API, blurring the boundaries between data accessioning, retrieval, and citation. This approach allows us to move away from presenting memory as static taxonomies and towards a model where the act of remembering is shaped and reshaped through community interaction.

Discovery: We start by interviewing participants to evaluate Trust’s recent archival protocol development work. We will map their needs to understand how participants interface with the information in our “memory-as-data” archives, including our physical Cybernetics Library and our video library of Trust Talks. We will compare this with peoples’ experiences interacting with initial versions of our prototype living memory interface.

Our discovery methods include:

  • Ethnographic observation within the Trust community’s online and physical spaces to understand existing practices around collective memory and archiving.
  • Research into information retrieval and knowledge arrangement systems.
  • Analysis of existing “memory-as-data” and “living memory” systems used by the community, identifying strengths, limitations, and underlying assumptions. “Living memory” will include methods of caring for pets, citation practices, swarms such as mutual aid networks (Rafa Fernandez), and video-game speed running.
  • Participatory design workshops with Trust community members to co-create and iteratively prototype our collective mascot.
  • Comparative analysis of other projects/platforms exploring alternative archiving and knowledge representation methods.

Prototyping: To build a prototype memory mascot for the Trust community, we will start by building on a generic database solution and focusing on the interpretation layer with a simple mascot interface; studying affect and the psychosocial impacts of memory mascots through role-playing games will provide insights into the design process.

Development of an Interpretation layer backend:

  • Bootstrap on top of a generic database/object storage substrate
  • Develop and iterate on expressive logic for a mascot, enabling trialing for various levels of interaction and data retrieval complexity
  • Produce an API spec

Development of Memory Mascots clients:

  • Gradually develop mascot representations across various touchpoints (i.e., browser-based, Twitch, and Unreal Engine.)

Role-Playing Simulations:

  • Designing role-playing games to test different ways of interacting with memory mascots and their emotional responses
  • Collaborative worldbuilding to give shape to Trust’s world
  • Running simulations with Trust community participants
  • Capturing qualitative data about varied protocol designs and iterating prototypes based on feedback

Field Testing: A multi-stage approach, starting with simple interventions parasitizing on communications platforms, progressing to implementations like website embeds and Twitch streams. Observe the community using the mascot for various archiving objectives.

Field Testing includes:

  • Testing ways the Trust community wants to surface memory via mascots
  • Observing the emergence of collective narratives and swarm alignment
  • Facilitation of emotional states. How does a memory mascot die? (via Sarah Friend)
  • Evaluating memory mascots’ role in broader orientation for various collective activities.
  • Capturing ethnographic data on group identity formation.
  • Experiments using the mascot to remind of past intellectual labor by showing the genealogies of ideas/topics within the collective archive.

Continuous feedback loops between discovery, prototyping and testing to iterate based on empirical findings.

Output Evaluation: Community testing and feedback with extended Trust Network. Potential expert reviewers: Kei Kreutler, Sarah Friend, Rafael Fernandez, Arthur Röing Baer, Toby Shorin, Victoria Ivanova, Julio Linares.

Publication & Evangelism:

  • Publish a text documenting the research and development methodology.
  • Documentation for a Memory Mascot SDK (including the interpretation layer and a set of example client implementations), allowing communities to spin up their own memory mascots.
  • Trust event and live-streamed lecture about the project.
  • Organizing a mini un-conference at Trust to convene critical stakeholders around living memory practices for cultural archiving.
  • Video trailer for sharing on social media.

Success Vision:

  • Fostering a network of communities like Trust committed to realizing and perpetuating their memory mascots.
  • Empowering communities to dynamically construct lore and identity in parallel while nurturing archives as living creatures.
  • Unlocking new ways for online communities to keep their lore and collective identities alive.

Update 8.4: Focus on bringing memory to life through avatars and collective systems of care.

Our improvement aims to enable communities like Trust – a network of utopian conspirators in Berlin and beyond – to collaboratively nurture and care for “living memory” systems, understood following Kei Kreutler as the active transmission and renewal of knowledge and lore through embodied practices and associative arrangements. In contrast to the accumulation of static and infinite “latent memory” in institutionalized archives, we explore the construction and enactment of community-specific living memory systems that facilitate recollection, sharing, and mutability. We emphasize the need for unique orientation interfaces to bring memory to life, such as creatures and avatars, cosmograms, virtual memory palaces, and Large Lore Models (LLoreMs).

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If Trust has a million fans, then I am one of them. If Trust has ten fans, then I am one of them. If Trust has only one fan then that is me. If Trust has no fans, then that means I am no longer on earth. If the world is against Trust, then I am against the world.


Update 12.4: Submitted final draft – Memory Mascots: bringing memory to life through mascots and collective systems of care : )

Discussing the proposal with a friend this morning the idea of the mascots addressing cultural amnesia and ‘presentism’ in cultural theory which describes ways culture limits its focus to the now and ‘reinvents the wheel’ over and over again. How could the mascots act as reminders of past intellectual labor and use that towards the future orientation of communities? The mascots as demystifying the individual genius by showing the genealogies of an idea within collective archives.

Update 15.4: Core Idea, Discovery and Prototyping updated with reworked technical details.

It’s wonderful to see proposals building on last year’s work, and course, it’s exciting for me to see a proposal related to my research as well as others.

I think the idea of a living avatar for memory is promising. I think often of how we think of avatars / PFPs as portraiture, when the etymology of avatar involved something less directly representational and more about one entity living through another. This is where I think the idea of memory mascots is interesting, especially involving game engines, in which the avatar of a community is an evolving ‘world’ itself. I’d be happy to review this work.

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