Family Files was initially set up to be an easy-to-use interface for filing and organizing pictures, still photographs, "whatever." Now it's a family album like you've never seen before.
Drawing from her own stack of cassettes, Soppela cut, edited and rearranged several Super 8 home movies. She then made 15 episodes or thematic chapters and created a matrix of repetitive loops. The user can start off a story at any given time. We see her native country, Finland; we see her, a toddler, snow, somebody waving at the camera. And we hear the music her husband wrote for each episode. It's cinema reinforcing interaction and interaction reinforcing cinema. Although the CD-ROM contains very little drama, as Soppela notes, Family Files has a distinctive dramatic quality.
Mari Soppela considers herself as much an artist as an interaction designer. As a designer, she transformed the language of computers into the stuff of ordinary life. Then, as an artist, she transformed ordinary family life into moments of timeless and vivid beauty. "Essentially it means the same to me," she says. "The design is in the programming. Without the programming there would be no interaction. So I call it writing. Writing code." Soppela was pregnant with her second child when she thought up the interface. Looking for imagery to bring it to life, she noticed her collection of Super 8 home movies. "Your own image, and that of the people close to you, has a peculiar quality: it's always interesting. You never get bored with your own image." She nonetheless scrupulously selected her "loops." There was the issue of privacy, but the danger of showing too much was counterbalanced by the nature of the pictures. "They were all happy pictures and in that, quite superficial. Still, I very consciously picked the images I wanted to show. It was a conscious decision to show happy family life." In the process she noticed something that had never occurred to her before: "It is very difficult to make something in art or design that's happy," Soppela says. She finished the CD-ROM 2 years later, quite some time after the baby was born. To her dismay Soppela learned how little time a mother has to sit back and reflect on everyday life. Lately the challenges of motherhood have commanded her interest. "As a mother, you have to be very efficient, you have to think ahead, organize, and for the sake of the children always carry out your plans," she says. "And still things never happen the way you want them to."
"You never get bored with your own images"
That's why Mari Soppela hopes that one day the Family Files interface will be used by other mothers as a means of archiving daily life. "Although right now the medium is too difficult, eventually it should be effortless. People often think the Files take up about 100 MB of computer space. Actually it's 600 MB, but they think it's light and that's good. I want it to be easy."
Mari Soppela <firstname.lastname@example.org> also designed the interactive conference proceedings of "Doors of Perception I" <http://www.xs4all.nl/~ano>
©1999 ACM 1072-5220/99/1100 $5.00
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