SEARCHED FOR: "qualia"

Gabriella Ortiz
Gabriella Ortiz
NYC based creative with a passion for the intersection between design and technology. Interested in exploring surveillance in the digital age and the evolution of communication and immediacy through technology.
Thesis Faculty
Ayodamola Okunseinde
Melanie Crean
Ernesto Klar

Did we ever think we’d find ourselves in a place where memories are triggered by data just as they are by our olfactory senses? There’s a long history of the link between our senses and memory recollection. It’s been proven that olfaction is closely linked to different emotional processes and autobiographical memory. However, because access to our personal data trails are relatively new, there are not many studies that have been published about the link between our data and memories. We can think about times we’ve read old text messages and remembered exactly who we were talking to or the context we were in at the time the message was sent or received. We can search through old emails and remember a time in our lives 10 years back when things seemed significantly different. This transcendent quality of data archives has become increasingly interesting to me, so I've dedicated my thesis to investigating this new phenomenon.

The idea of “qualia” is also incredibly relevant to this thesis exploration. Qualia is the notion that feelings and experiences vary widely and are subjective. What one person feels once they are presented with their data, another may not feel. One person’s data history may not trigger any emotion from a stranger, or it can affect another person in a surprising way.

This notion of qualia and memory recollection is relevant to anyone who uses technology and has amassed a data history on any platform or device. While this project focuses specifically on Google search history, “Searched for: qualia” should be seen as an ongoing examination of the way data can produce visceral feelings. As stated earlier, this phenomenon can be applied to email history, phone calls, text messages, search records, and more.

Before launching the project, submissions were collected from ~40 anonymous volunteers. The submissions include the volunteers’ searches and information about the emotions and memories linked to each search.

To interact with the project, a user is able to visit the webpage and view an archive of the anonymously submitted searches and their linked affects. The emotional states are presented on the screen, and upon clicking each will reveal different submissions. The submissions are not filtered or grouped by their emotional state tags as a nod to the notion of qualia. Users also have the option to sign up to receive instructions for anonymously contributing to the archive if they are interested.