What object do people treasure most? Why?
These are questions that I have been asked to find answers to, through a bit of research and interviewing. I began to think about sentimental value, what it is, and why we ascribe sentimental value to objects. From asking myself this question, I found that I all but forgot about my most ‘valuable’ possessions, my laptop, camera, and phone, and instantly thought of photographs, jewellery, notes and letters. I did a bit of research to help me to understand what sentimental value is, and Guy Fletcher (2009) states the following: “We can give a definition along the following lines: something is sentimentally valuable if and only if the thing is valuable for its own sake in virtue of a subset of its relational properties, where the properties include any or all of having belonged to, having been given to or by, or having being used by, people or animals, within a relationship of family, friendship, or romantic love, or having been used or acquired during a significant experience. This is not comprehensive, not least because it leaves unanswered the important question of why it is that the relational properties sometimes generate sentimental value and other times do not.”
Anthony Hatsimoysis (2003) states “The intimate relation between oneself and the objects one experiences as sentimentally valuable may support the view that sentimental value is personal. It can, indeed, be argued that sentimental value is personal because it is not impersonal, since it is part of a phenomenon that involves a point of view of the world, namely, the point of view of the person who is emotionally connected with the bearer of value.”
From this I understood that sentimental value is given to items which a person has some other, more meaningful interaction with than ‘I wanted it so I bought it.’ I decided to focus on this, and hoped to find out if what people most valued was items with a high sentimental value, or if monetary value would have any sway over peoples’ choices.
Hatzimoysis says in the same article, “An object is sentimentally valuable to an agent for certain reasons, which, by the very fact of being reasons, are in principle intelligible by everyone else, even though they may not be applicable to anyone else. Universality may thus come in through the understanding that something has the relevant quality, but not in the experience of that quality as enjoyed by the agent who sees the object as sentimentally valuable.”
So, for example, you might understand why I would treasure a particular piece of jewellery, even though the jewellery has no particular meaning to you personally. I kept this in mind while interviewing, as I understand that it might be quite a close-to-heart subject, and I wanted my interviewees to be comfortable talking to me about something so personal.
I made did a bit of brainstorming about what sort of items I thought people might treasure and why – I came up with such possibilities as photographs, jewellery, soft toys, and computers: items given as gifts, items that once belonged to a friend or relative, or items that had been worked hard for and well-earned. It’s quite a wide subject, really, so I found it a bit difficult to narrow down my interview questioning.
In the end, the questions I armed myself with were:
- Do you have a ‘prized possession’, something you would save from a burning building – if so, what is it?
- How did you get it?
- Does it remind you of any particular thing/place/person/time, or does it have a particular use – if so, what?
- Do you keep it because of what it reminds you of, or could it be easily replaced?
- Do you keep it in a prominent place, or is it kept ‘safe’ and only looked at / used on occasion?
Using a semi-structured interview style means my questioning was somewhat open – I asked my questions, but there was room to ask follow-up questions, and really just have a conversation. I took minimal notes during the interviews, just noting down key words or phrases. The answers I was given were then plotted on mind maps.
I interviewed Leona, a student and retail worker in her mid-twenties, who initially found it quite difficult to decide what she felt she prized most. I found my conversation with Leona very helpful, because we touched on such issues as ‘silly’ sentimental items and small tokens, all the way to big expensive purchases – laptops, phones, and cameras. What means more? In the end Leona told me about two photographs of her grandfather, one which lives in a prominent place in her bedroom where it is seen every day and one which she keeps in a small box in a cupboard, which she only brings out to look at every so often. These photos bring her happy memories, but they also bring sadness over a much missed family member.
Daniel, a student in his twenties told me about a glass paperweight that was given to his mother in the ‘80s as a thank you for doing a favour for someone. He told me about how he used to find it interesting because it was so colourful, and how it reminds him of his childhood, when he lived in Menzieshill in Dundee. The paperweight is kept on a bookshelf in his bedroom, a fairly prominent place. The item was never actually used as a paperweight; it was always just something that was kept around on display. Daniel reacquired this paperweight a couple of years ago after losing track of it in the early nineties – finding it instantly reminded him of the place he used to live, and he feels that this paperweight coming back into his possession sort of symbolises him having grown up.
Linsay, also a student in her twenties and a retail worker, told me about a doll she’d had since she was very young. She was able to describe the doll in great detail, and told me the story of how she came to have it. When Linsay was young – around two and a half or three years old – she had to have an operation on her thumbs, and after going to get her stitches taken out (which was quite a traumatic experience for such a young child) she was taken to the shops to choose a toy. She chose this doll, whose name is Tracey. Linsay related stories about Tracey, memories to do with her aunts, taking Tracey on holiday, and other family-orientated memories. She keeps Tracey in quite a prominent place in her room, where she can see her every day.
I also got input on my chosen topic from a few members of my boyfriend’s family, whose answers to the ‘prized possession’ question included family photos because of the associated memories, wedding photos and guestbook because of the messages contained within, and a wedding ring because it reminds the owner of his wife, the wedding day, and it symbolises the promise he and his wife share.
Through my interviews and general conversation I have found that people seem to treasure tokens, rather than items which would necessarily cost a lot of money. People treasure objects which connect them with other people, or places, or even periods of time; people treasure the memories that are associated with these objects. Nobody I spoke to really mentioned anything expensive as something they’d instantly think to save from a fire.
I think my interviews went well, and I found my conversations with my interviewees and the answers they gave very helpful. I could have perhaps been a bit more confident with my approach to interviewing, as I found myself being unsure about when was an okay point to move on to a different question. While I find mind maps useful, I now feel that I should have used a more fun and interactive design tool with my interviewees. Over all though, I feel I was able to gather the information I was looking for.
Flethcher, G. (2009) Sentimental Value. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 33 pp. 35-65.
Hatzimoysis, A. (2003) Sentimental Value. The Philosophical Quarterly, 53 (212) pp. 373-379.
Following on from my previous Assignment 2 post, my team met up at lunch time on Monday for one last bit of discussion and mind mapping. We picked three of the possible solutions for road rage that we brainstormed last time, and made a mind map of how they would work, and how they could be used.
We decided that our three best options were:
- a stress ball installed as the gear knob in your car
- the air conditioning in your car being perfumed with calming scents, like lavender
- in-car CCTV, with a camera attached to the rear-view mirror, so that you could play back video of your journey, watch your behaviour, and learn from it; there would also be a service attached to this – an ‘app’ where you could track your progress in learning to deal with your road rage, and a forum where road-ragers could post and talk about their issues
I think that all three of these solutions could be used together – squeezing the stress ball could trigger the air conditioning to come on, to cool you down and chill you out with a wee burst of lavender, or your own chosen calming scent, and of course, later on you could review the CCTV footage of you raging in your car and begin to work on your behaviour and learn from your road rage experience. Squeezing the stress ball could even trigger your smartphone app to put a note with a time stamp and a geotag in your calendar, so that you could see if you become stressed at any particular times or places in your journeys.
I have quite enjoyed working on this assignment. It’s been refreshing to work on something that doesn’t entail sitting and working in my material matters sketchbook, and it’s also been a new experience for me to work as part of a team.
As part of my Change by Design module, I have read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, a book that looks at epidemics of social behavior. I’ve always been a bit of a reader. I absorbed books as a child, and amassed a gigantic collection of Point Horror novels! Although I mainly stick to fiction (Harry Potter, the Sookie Stackhouse novels – my tastes haven’t really changed since I was about twelve, to be honest, but I have done most of the classics and must-reads too!) I rather enjoyed The Tipping Point. I did find the book to be a bit repetitive, but I suppose that’s part of what it takes to make information “sticky”! To complete Assignment 1 of Change by Design I produced an overview of the book as a mind map, and then chose one chapter to look at more closely. It might take another read for me to really get my head around the whole book, because I found that when mind mapping I got a bit mixed up with which chapter was which, and what information came from where.
The chapter I chose to look at in more depth was The Power of Context (Part Two), which is concerned with “the magic number one hundred and fifty”. After a bit of Googling for past students’ blogs I think this might be a bit of an unpopular choice! I chose this chapter because I am quite interested in psychology, and I found the concept that we have a finite capacity for close relationships quite fascinating! I’d never really thought about it before. I was already familiar with Miller’s The Magical Number Seven, but had only ever thought about it in the context of “chunks of information”, sequences of numbers or letters, etc. Dunbar argues that humans evolved bigger brains (with bigger neocortices) in order to better deal with larger social groups. I had never really thought about the brain power associated with having friends before, but it really can be an exhausting exercise – if I think of my closest friends, I can name their partners, many of their family members, a number of their other friends from work or college or university, and who of all of these people is having drama with whom!
I became really interested in the idea of “transactive memory”, where a lot of our information isn’t actually stored in our brains, but elsewhere. If, for example, you had to name the capital city of Bhutan, you probably don’t have that particular piece of information memorised, but you do know that if you look in an atlas (or in one of those fancy notebooks with a list of countries and capitals and a conversion chart on the inside cover, or on the internet) you’ll easily find it. I especially liked the part of the chapter that talks about how couples and families store their information with each other – I go to my boyfriend if I need computer help, for example, or if I need to find out where someplace is, because he’s good at that. I tend to be the one to remember if we have to be somewhere, or things like important dates. That all sounds a bit stereotypical, I think, but there we go!
As part of this assignment, I have also produced an annotated bibliography of my chosen chapter in the Harvard referencing style:
Miller, G. A., 1956. The Magical Number Seven. Psychological Review, 63 (2), pp. 81-97.
Here Miller says that the human mind’s working (or short-term) memory has a capacity of about seven (plus or minus two) pieces of information. Gladwell references Miller to illustrate the channel capacity concept, that humans can only handle taking in and differentiating between so many snippets of information at once.
Buys, C. J. & Larson, K. L., 1979. Human Sympathy Groups. Psychology Reports, 45 (2), pp. 547-553.
Washburn, S. L. & Moore, R., 1973. Ape into Man. Boston: Little, Brown.
These two references talk about human capacity for relationships and group size. People generally only hold about 12 to 15 people close to heart; caring deeply about people can be exhausting and requires a lot of time investment.
Dunbar, R. I. M., 1992. Neocortex Size as a Constraint on Group Size in Primates. Journal of Human Evolution, 20, pp. 469-493.
Dunbar, R. I. M., 1996. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Dunbar argues that in primates (monkeys, chimps, baboons, humans) group size, the capacity for close relationships, is directly related to the size of the neocortex area of the brain. He has studied many hunter-gatherer tribes for which there is documented history, and found that their group sizes tend to average just below the magic number of one hundred and fifty.
Wegner, D., 1987. Transactive Memory: A Contemporary Analysis of the Group Mind. In: Mullen, B. & Goethals, G. eds.Theories of Group Behavior. New York: Springer-Verlag, pp. 200-201.
Wegner, D., 1991. Transactive Memory in Close Relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61 (6), pp. 923-929.
Wegner describes “transactive memory”, where much of what we remember is not stored in our brain, but outside it; our information tends not to be memorised, but stored elsewhere – in phone books, diaries, atlases, or with our partners, children, or siblings. We then simply memorise what kind of information is stored where, so that we can easily access it when needed.
Last Friday we had a mind mapping workshop, as part of Change by Design.
I’ve never really been a mind-mapper (I’ve always been a messy list-maker!), but I suppose that’s because I’ve never really learned how to do them properly. They were always just this thing that other people do, that has specific rules that you have to adhere to, and I never really understood why I’d have to follow these rules that don’t really make sense to me. After our workshop, I can now kind of see how mind maps are useful. It probably won’t always be the first thing I think of to do, but I can certainly now understand the point of them! My only problem, really, with mind maps is putting images on them – I felt like I was having to work extra hard to think of an image to match what I was thinking of, when I could have just used a word.