We get emotional about our stuff.
Some objects become engrained in our everyday lives. We wear them, hold them, and build narratives around them. They become symbols for a story we're creating, about happy times, about our childhood, about a relationship. However, the emotional narrative surrounding our stuff is often recorded separately. We tell it in journals, frame it in pictures, or recall it with friends and family. It is rare for totem objects to also record and reflect emotional narrative. A ring is a ring, a shirt is a shirt, a stuffed animal a stuffed animal. We can look at a favorite shirt and recall the sunny day when we last wore it, but the shirt doesn't record that day to remind us and lift our spirits.
It is possible to partially merge emotional object and emotional narrative. One artist invented a ring for his wife that was also a small projector. She could change out the slide so that different images could tell the story of their marriage, over time.
I'm experimenting with a similar idea, but more electronic. I'm merging a stuffed animal and its emotional narrative in a project I call "Buddy." Buddy tells the internet how you interact with him and gives you a graph of how you played with him at different times of the day. I have made a half dozen prototypes of Buddy, some knit and some sewn, some that light up and some that simply purr. The prototypes have a chip on board that tracks how they are handled, in order to help build and remember the story of your time with Buddy.
Buddy is designed to be extra cute and extra squishy. I didn't like the way sewn prototypes felt, or how you could see the seams. It took longer to make the knit prototypes, but I prefer the outcome--soft, cuddly, extra-squishable little creatures without seams. I wove conductive yarn into the knit prototypes, introducing a subtle "skin" that seamlessly records how Buddy is being handled. I hope that at the end of the year, Buddy will not just be be easy and fun to interact with. I hope that he'll be able to help you understand how you were feeling at different moments in time. I hope that he will provide feedback through vibration, light, or sound to help you build and recall your narrative.
The current prototype I'm testing has all the electronics housed in a hard paddle-like tail. Not only does this mean that I can fine-tune the electronics as he records, but it also means you don't touch anything hard while squishing and petting Buddy. He streams some data to the Internet with a cellular board, and records the rest of to an SD card.
My hope is that, by recording how he is petted, played with, squashed, and thrown, Buddy will record and reflect the emotional narrative a person creates with him. I'm going to be carrying around a Buddy prototype to see what happens when I hold him during a movie, during dinner, while sitting in a Lyft, and more. I'll let you know how it goes.
If you'd like to monitor Buddy's progress, all the code and design files for the in-progress Buddy prototypes are on GitHub.