Today, people record their memories with cell phones and video cameras — capturing these digital memories in social media or simply banishing them to the depths of impersonal hard drives. Memory Sponge is a concept that adapts the idea of a keepsake, linking physical artifacts to specific memories. The sponge records memories completely, absorbing ambient sound, scent and images. It records these into the sponge itself, into a liquid hard drive which expands the sponge as it fills up. These memories can be later accessed by squeezing the sponge onto any surface, where the liquid hard drive will seep out leave a stamp of the memory.
Here recorded is a transcript of a radio interview between of the founder of Nostaltech, and KQED morning radio.
K: Hello and welcome to KQED San Francisco Public Radio. Its currently 8:00 am on January the 5th 2035. Downtown SF is looking like a calm 65°, while the coasts are fluctuating between 50 to 60. Come on global warming, we really could use some help here. As always, I’m your host, Angel Peterson.
This morning’s program is sponsored by the lovely folks at Nostaltech. Feel like keeping your precious memories preserved? Nostaltech offers completely secure offline memory storage. For ten percent off their memory sponge and a free cabinet to store them in, use the promotional code, KQED15 at Nostaltech.com. We also have with us in the studio company founder and CEO, Earnest Zimmer. Thank you so much for being on the program with us today Earnest.
E: Thank you so much.
K: Could you maybe tell us a little about the history of the company and how you got started?
E: We started out as a simple printing service, we would take people’s digital photos and print polaroid like images for them to collect and share with their loved ones. It was really good experience and showed us the love that people have for physical keepsakes. A cluster of pixels just doesn’t hold us to the personal, the private nature of a printed picture.
K: It seems like Nostltech went from relative obscurity to market saturation in just a few short years? What’s that been like? Did you plan to see such an explosion of usage?
E: Well a number of things happened in short succession that seemed to push a wave of new users into our system. Certainly the Facebook crash of 2020 contributed greatly…
K: Oh god thats right…3 weeks. 3 weeks they couldn’t bring Facebook back online. The whole station was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I mean it took quite a while until we realized what had happened, what with the hacker group DedHax, taking out Facebook’s servers.
E: In the aftermath of that crash, everyone who had pictures only stored on Facebook all lost faith in their “preservation”. Millions of photos were destroyed, and that’s the thing about the cloud… It seems eternal, until it isn’t. In the same way that millennials distrust of the financial system was bred out of the 2008 banking crisis, so too were the next generation distrustful of online data or photo storage.
K: And what would you say to those people who are still clinging to the world wide web as a means of preserving their memories?
E: To them I would have to say… You are only as good as the system you rely on. These days you can never be too safe, scammers prey on people’s most personal secrets and use them against them. As alluring as the concept of cloud based storage is, the reality is much more fragile.
We’re approaching the end of thirty years of almost exclusively digital records. That may seem like the most stable thing now, but we’ve seen what happens when digital legacies of countries are interrupted like with what happened in Singapore, a single EMP took out the entire history of a country, but didn’t kill a single person. Now they have to rebuild with little to no knowledge aside from written texts and oral histories.
Our records and our memories are what we will leave for future generations — and I think our users have really responded to that idea. They understand the value in having a physical object that contains their memories, not some far off server. Each memory is a personal thing, and it deserves to be cherished and kept safe and close.
K: So how does the Nostaltech system work, I see everyone carrying these little sponges, clipped to bags sitting on shelves, and they, uh, they seem to move.
E: So you see those little guys the memory sponges, each is a capture device, its own storage, and playback system.
The Memory sponge is made from a wonderful material, it does exactly what you think a sponge would do, it absorbs, in our case, it absorbs sound, scent, pictures, you name it. It records these into the sponge itself, into a liquid hard drive which expands the sponge as it fills up. These memories can be later accessed by squeezing the sponge onto any surface, where the liquid hard drive will seep out leave a stamp of the memory.
We had a lot of fun coming up with the interface, I mean its a sponge! What do people do with a sponge? You squeeze it and wring it out, you press it on things.
K: So all your products are based on this Liquid data storage? How come we don’t see anyone else using this technology?
My roommate in college was a researcher at Michigan University, while he was studying he found this really quite clever technique to make nano particles in liquid behave in the same way silicon chips in computers work.
K: Ok you lost me, hows that one go?
E: Essentially, he made nano particles suspended in liquid they found that that they could control the structures of the nano particles based on the temperature of the liquid around them. Essentially, in one condensed configuration, the nano particles will form a “0”, and in their expanded configuration they form a shape that registers as a “1”. Creating this was the first step in the field of liquid data storage. So that freed us from the constraints of having to have something hard. Now we could store terabytes of information within a tablespoon, no need for clunky hard drives, cameras and computers.
E: So now we just need to be able to drink the liquid right?
K: Please don’t try that.
E: Well I think that’s about all the time we have, Earnest, I’ve enjoyed this immensely.
K: Thank you so much.