Here you'll find design stories, scenarios, storyboards and fictions.
Story and Narrative Theory
A story that is challenging to remember
This story is cited by Bartlett (1932:64) as one of several experimental studies he conducted on remembering. It was adapted from a North American folk-tale translated by Dr Franz Boas (Ann.Rep.Bur.of Amer. Ethnol. Bull. 26, pp. 184–5). Bartlett was looking into the phenomena of how memory changes over time. To do this, he used 'the method of repeated reproduction', that is to say, participants read the story and, at a number of intervals thereafter, wrote down what they recalled of the story. Because of it's lack of familiar narrative structure, the story is very challenging to remember. Try it!
- War of the Ghosts
- One night two young men from Egulac went down to the river to hunt seals and while they were there it became foggy and calm. Then they heard war-cries, and they thought: “Maybe this is a war-party”. They escaped to the shore, and hid behind a log. Now canoes came up, and they heard the noise of paddles, and saw one canoe coming up to them. There were five men in the canoe, and they said: “What do you think? We wish to take you along. We are going up the river to make war on the people.”
One of the young men said,”I have no arrows.” “Arrows are in the canoe,” they said. “I will not go along. I might be killed. My relatives do not know where I have gone. But you,” he said, turning to the other, “may go with them.” So one of the young men went, but the other returned home. And the warriors went on up the river to a town on the other side of Kalama. The people came down to the water and they began to fight, and many were killed. But presently the young man heard one of the warriors say, “Quick, let us go home: that Indian has been hit.” Now he thought: “Oh, they are ghosts.” He did not feel sick, but they said he had been shot. So the canoes went back to Egulac and the young man went ashore to his house and made a fire. And he told everybody and said: “Behold I accompanied the ghosts, and we went to fight. Many of our fellows were killed, and many of those who attacked us were killed. They said I was hit, and I did not feel sick.” He told it all, and then he became quiet.
When the sun rose he fell down. Something black came out of his mouth. His face became contorted. The people jumped up and cried. He was dead.
Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Bulletin. 26, pp. 184–5.
Bartlett, F. C. (1932) Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology. Cambridge University press.
This design fiction was developed collaboratively as part of a European Horizon Project called Charting the Digital Lifespan of Tomorrow: Research Through Design Fictions.
The year is 2040.
Caring for the aged has become big business. There have been considerable advancements in medicine, drugs, and assistive technologies. Genetic profiling is a routine procedure at the age of fifty. Some forms of euthanasia are now legal, but only in some countries. VEATec, an India-based corporation with treatment centres in Tibet, offers a package of highly personalized Inference Extraction Services called VIVIEN (Virtual Information Vault and Inference Extraction Network). It has carved out a niche market by offering a bereavement package with both identity preservation and virtual after-presence (also known as VEA or ‘Virtual Ever After’). But, there is growing opposition to these types of services because they operate through loopholes in international law and cater to the needs of a privileged few at a time when the needs of the many are being threatened. Lobby groups and public protests are starting to sway public opinion against them and could threaten to close them down.
- 20:36 Sunday, April 1. Interior VEATec cryogenics treatment centre 3, Tibet.
Sterile brightly lit corridors.
Iris. "There. I suppose it’s done."
"For you, Iris, the results, I’m afraid, are more worrying. They show that what we thought was a mild case of osteoarthritis, the soreness you’ve been feeling in your hips and knees (x-rays of these appear on the wall), is in fact rheumatoid arthritis. It is progressing surprisingly quickly."
Iris: "Thank you doctor. Pause interview."
John and Iris have a long and serious discussion about their future. Periodically they consult their personal assistant, which connects them to medical, financial, legal and social records. They receive live advice from their doctor, investment advisor and lawyer as well as family members and friends.
John: "They claim to get the best results when you are in good health. With this package your intellectual after-presence would be a considerable asset to them. They would look after you and the royalties it generates for us would reduce the cost of the program. Your Virtual Ever After presence would act on your behalf..."
Iris:"....to make sure that you get the best possible care."
John: "If by a miracle there is a cure, there’s some money left over, I’m still alive and, oh yes, I haven’t lost all my marbles, we may yet finish the extension on the house and live out our lives in something like peaceful retirement."
Iris (visibly wilting):"It’s settled then, we’ll go with VIVIEN."
13:30 Friday, March 30. London Heathrow Airport, passenger departure lounge.
15:20 Saturday, March 31. Lhasa Gonggar Airport, Tibet.
For a while, John is also comforted by reflections of iris’ presence during quiet moments, such as at night when he reaches for her pillow, or on Sunday afternoons when he takes a stroll that they both enjoyed. But now the reflections have turned to shadows that bring with them an even deeper sense of loss, and more frequently, regret.
John and Iris never had children. Iris’s career took precedence, even over his own. Thanks to the wonders of modern science, which has achieved separation of the intellect from an otherwise cryogenically preserved body, John occasionally sees Iris’ work cited in international news items or special reports on the critical state of world epidemics and the science of immunology.
7 years after Iris’ transformation. John has learned to avoid evoking IRIS during moments of reflection. He no longer grieves for the loss of Iris. Rather, his need of IRIS has been to assist his failing memory and to act as a co-signatory in their joint legal and financial affairs. These are primarily concerned with preserving the VIVIEN account. John has given up trying to bequeath anything to his nieces, nephews and godson.
When Jasmine Gharra becomes a regular visitor and their friendship turns to intimacy, for the first time in many years John feels wanted for who he really is. But communications between them break down irreparably over a series of inexplicable typos, bogus appointments and other personal assistant system errors.
The value of Iris’ professional intellect and experience on the open market has grown considerably due to increased threats of global epidemics and needs for advanced immunisation programs. VEATec own usage rights to Iris’ intellectual capacity (although they pay a royalty to her heirs and estate). They are at liberty to exploit the opportunity by allocating more power and bandwidth to Iris’ intellectual feed. With every increase her ability to influence IRIS, her virtual ever after, grows.
10 years after Iris’ transformation. John has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. IRIS is instrumental in helping to arrange their finances and set up a program of care that includes providing power of attorney should John lose his mental faculties.
Small epidemics break out in isolated regions of the third-world. They don’t yet threaten the developed world, but funding is increased to support contingency measures, including immunisation plans. Protests against unlawful euthanasia become more militant.
13 years after Iris’ transformation. A small band of militant protestors manage to infiltrate VEATec’s high security cryogenic systems. They are apprehended, but an unknown amount of damage has been done.
John now has a permanent caregiver. His long-term memory has deteriorated and he’s prone to wild mood swings and sudden bursts of aggression. He spends hours simply staring blankly at a flickering screen.
The caregiver is unsympathetic.
VIVIEN/Iris: REQUEST SIGNATURE
IRIS. It won’t be much longer now John. I will stay with you to the end.
The caregiver produces a legal document and guides John’s hand to sign it.
VIVIEN/Iris: IDENTITY CONFIRMED. INITIATE PROTOCOL CASE:35077954 ALPHA ALPHA.
John starts to shake and lose control.
John. IIIRISSSSS...godda mit.....Why why why why why...
The Caregiver gives him an injection and he slumps back into silent numbness.
Meanwhile, at VEATec Tibetan treatment centre, Iris begins to recover consciousness. Attending nurses and doctors, gowned and with masked faces, assist her as she comes round and tries to sit up. Iris goes into convulsions and she is restrained and given an injection.
A few hours later. Darkened room. Iris sitting in a wheelchair in front of a mirrored dresser. A towel over her head.
Iris. So, my plan worked. John is pleasantly gaga. IRIS has all the burden of looking after him until he croaks (which can’t be too long now). While I, I am thirteen years younger than I would have otherwise been and the soon-to-be only heir to our little estate. I can start a new life anywhere I feel like and with whomever I choose. I fooled them all with that faked DNA sample and rheumatoid arthritis condition.
Painfully Iris leans closer to the mirror. Slowly she pulls back the towel.
Iris. Let’s see just how well preserved I am.........AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!
Somewhere deep inside VEATec HQ in a plush executive consulting room, twelve smartly dressed executives sit around a large table.
Head of IT. The security breach must have damaged the cryogenic systems control units in treatment centre 3. Looks like it threw the polarity of the units completely into reverse. We’re also getting weird readouts from the Virtual Information Vault. Some, if not all, of the Ever Afters may be down.
Chief medical consultant. For clients stored in treatment centre 3 the results are catastrophic. There’s widespread tissue damage and skeletal malformation. They are alive, but most are in critical condition and may never come off life support.
Legal advisor. There will be law suits. We’ll have to make some sizable settlements. When word of this gets out our stock will be in the toilet. SCENE 12
02:46, December 14, 2056. Palliative care resident bedroom, interior.
A soft knock on the door.
John is asleep. Oxygen gauges flicker and the heart monitor shows increased activity. John stirs a little on his pillow.
Another soft knock on the door.
John. Is that you Iris?
The door slowly slides open.
Iris. Hello John.
John. Iris? Is that really you?
Iris. Yes John. It’s really me. How are you?
John hears Iris move over to the bed. He feels the air in the room move, then a slight pressure on the bed covers near his hand.
There is a long silence. John has lost his sight and can now barely move.
John. You’re not THAT IRIS are you?
Iris. No John. It’s really me.
John feels something like a hand cupped in his.
Iris. I am really here and I will stay with you.