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  • Andrew Sears

Memory Donation Center: A Speculative Design Experience

Of my earliest memories, four are happy and one is devastating. The happy ones include reenacting Disney's Aladdin with my dad, watching Darth Vader step through the door of the Tantive IV, and building a baking soda volcano in our apartment building's yard. The devastating one isn't so devastating in retrospect: I accidentally crushed a MacDonald's ice cream cone with my bare and barely-dexterous hand mid-way through its journey to my mouth.

How do these early memories affect my identity today? I still love Star Wars and DIY science experiments. But more importantly: does the fact that my earliest memories are filled with sensations of love, safety, and play contribute to my optimistic nature as an adult? What does this mean for people whose early childhood memories are predominantly traumatic? What if I, as a memory-privileged person, could donate formative happy memories to those who weren't as fortunate as I?

These are some of the questions provoked by the Memory Donation Center, a speculative design project by Jason Pi [1]. In creating this project, Jason drew inspiration from sources as diverse as Blade Runner, John Locke, and Luciando Floridi. He's exploring questions like: What would one lose by donating a memory?; Do memories need to be formed through first-hand experiences to be formative of one's identity?; How much power to technology platforms have to change our perception of self?

The Memory Donation Center is fictional, but advancements in brain-machine interface and other technologies bring us closer each day to the possibility of uploading, downloading, sharing, and networking human memories. I'm pleased to feature this project along with an exclusive introduction by Jason, in which he elaborates on the inspirations and ideas driving his work. Read the introduction below or visit the Memory Donation Center now at this link: I hope you find the experience as provocative and inspiring as I have.

Creator's Introduction

by Jason Pi

The idea for this project was sparked by a lengthy discussion that I shared with a friend, in which we argued the importance of first-hand experiences in building one’s identity. If one were to bury themselves in texts detailing accounts of brave conquests, impassioned loves, and crippling tragedies, would that be comparable to having lived through all of it personally? 

My first reaction was: of course not, as those aren’t the reader’s experiences, and personal experiences are processed differently. Why is that? Is true ownership of the memory really that important, or is it the fidelity of the described memory and lack of an immediate surge of hormones the issue? I would argue that with access to modern mediums like theater, experiences could be captured and broadcasted in a larger than life manner. The anxiety one feels while watching Alex Honnold scale El Capitan in Free Solo is as real as cortisol gets. Is there, then, something greater that separates first-hand experience from anecdotes beyond the illusion of ownership? 

With this question of memory ownership and its role in the formation of one’s identity, I dove into philosophical attempts of tackling this topic. John Locke postulates in his theory of personal identity that remembering an experience defines ownership, and such experiences are what builds the identity [2]. Joseph Butler, however, argues that memory presupposes identity: one can only remember what is already theirs [3]. In this debate, entangled with countless attempts at proving or disproving each theory with merely hypothetical scenarios, would all this become obsolete if one could possess implanted memories? Would the emphasis on the owner of a memory dissolve, and would our definitions of identity and self change?

In my project, the Memory Donation Center, I imagine a future in which memory transplants exist, and urge users to ponder what a future of shared memories would look like. Furthermore, I am hoping to use this piece as a lens to view our current understanding of memories and identity.

Visit the Memory Donation Center:


[1] You can learn more about Jason's work and contact him through his website:

[2] Locke, John. "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding." Perry, John. Personal Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 33-52.

[3] Butler,  Joseph. ’Of Personal Identity’ in ’The Analogy of Religion. Reprinted in Perry, John, 1975, ’Personal Identity’. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1736. p. 100.

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