Back in the day (whenever that was) we all used to accumulate DVDs, CDs, photo albums and books. Thanks to the glory of the internet and advances in computing capability, we have been able to get rid of our bursting shelves, overflowing racks and stuffed bookcases and replaced them with instantly accessible and dependable space-saving virtual equivalents. Over time, smart TVs and video streaming subscriptions replaced DVDs. Spotify and its competitors replaced CDs and even some MP3 players. Facebook and data storage devices replaced the need for physical photo albums. And for bibliophiles, the Kindle replaced books.
This was certainly a natural and inevitable step in our modern lives, putting everything onto very few versatile digital systems and eliminating the burden of material stuff to clutter bedrooms and shelves. But with these convenient methods, we have lost the romance in sharing and consuming our media. There’s nothing sexy about sending a friend a USB stick of your holiday photos or cuddling up to sign into Netflix. Being born in the 90s, I became a teenager when mixtape culture atrophied so I never got to really experience that now-nostalgic process of creating and gifting a selection of carefully-thought-over audio tracks to someone I was close to. If I were to make an actual mixtape now, the experience would be inauthentic and anachronistic. And really hipster.
Qleek aims to make our immaterial personal data physical again. Qleek wants to return our video, audio, text and other media data to a thing that we can hold in our hands, collect, swap, stack, play and share just like the good old days. Media data would be incarnated into hexagonal wooden tiles call Tapps and when a Tapp is placed on Qleek’s nifty reader, the chosen tile would sync and play to the appropriate output device.
I think this is pretty damn cool.
Data would become tangible again. There is something satisfying about the tactility and haecceity of materialised media, of holding something in your fingers that you know is the thing you’re holding, rather than a jumble of random files on a hard drive. The satisfaction touches the same nerve as that of die-hard bibliophiles who will always prefer the physicality of a book to an impersonal Kindle.
Data would be visible. The pictures show how Tapps can be collectible and commodified. Qleek’s Tapps straddle the best of both worlds: no more heavy boxes of books and DVDs to shift when you move flats and taking up space in your home, and on the other end of the spectrum, no boring and unsatisfying impersonal approach to finding a film or retrieving a file. This lovely quote I am shamelessly lifting from Christopher Mims’ article on Qleek from Quartz succinctly explains how important this visibility is on how we consume media:
As neurobiologist Mark Changizi has observed, ebooks, the web, and other libraries of digital media have no geography. Humans have an enormous capacity to remember things by locating them in space and time, so the lack of spatial constancy in our media—the way we are forced to “teleport” from one object to the next, as through a hyperlink—means we are hardly ever engaging this portion of our memories.
“In nature, information comes with a physical address (and often a temporal one), and one can navigate to and from the address. Those raspberry patches we found last year are over the hill and through the woods — and they are still over the hill and through the woods. And up until the rise of the web, the mechanisms for information storage were largely spatial and could be navigated, thereby tapping into our innate navigation capabilities.”
There was an intermediary period in the development of our technology in which we got interfaces that were both electronic and physical—the control deck of this Russian nuclear power plant is a great example. But now we’ve lost even those.
These days, the closest we get to engaging our spatial memory with our virtual interfaces is the layout of apps on our homescreens. To cope, we’ve replaced spatial memory and navigation with search. While search is powerful, it cannot exist outside of the devices that enable it, and by relying on an algorithm to recall what we’ve forgotten rather than our own intuitive sense of where it is in the world or in our libraries, we forfeit control over which parts of our knowledge we have access to
And finally, data would be homogeneous. Not sure I picked out the right word to describe this but I mean that all the Tapps have the same basic wooden tile structure but each one conceals different types of media to be used for different outputs. The fact that Qleek’s tiles can all hang side by side on the wall and then instinctively correspond to different output devices dependent on the individuality of each Tapp is probably the most impressive part about Qleek to me, unless I have the wrong end of the stick.
The potential for Qleek is mind-blowing. It could go far beyond its obvious appeal of storing gap yah photos in a sleek and easy way. Qleek’s Tapps could hold just about any type of data beyond media. It could conceal a beacon that can triangulate geolocation data. A Tapp could double for something as simple as a fob. Because a Tapp automatically updates data each time it is placed on a reader, users can view a newly uploaded episode of their favourite series, or tune in to a new broadcast lecture… The possibilities are endless.
Qleek is on Indiegogo and has under four weeks until it has to reach its fundraising goal. This is probably one of the only things I’ve come across that has actually inspired me to get behind a particular project so if you’re reading this and even mildly interested, I implore you to help Ozenge (the team of inventors behind Qleek) to reach their goal, even if it’s for a novelty Tapp to prove you contributed.