ITP Thesis Week 2009
Monday, May 4 - Friday, May 8

A Million Magnets

Justin Donato

Due to a confluence of properties including, its location, its surface material and its frequency of use, the refrigerator door has become the place where families and roommates talk to each other. Mothers, fathers and friends curate them according to a loose schema: an important list, the drawing of a child, things with no other home, something you can't forget. And although they are embedded in a small area of our private lives, they are public by nature, broadcasting their message to anyone who passes by, and often revealing something about their owners. The refrigerator is a low-tech message center, but one whose functionality and interface is unmatched. Not only are magnets easy to use, but they essentially beg children to play with them, often dressed up as letters in their colorful alphabet. As a message center, the refrigerator is always 'on.' But being old-technology, the refrigerator door has only a small amount of memory. Luckily, things are constantly shuffled through, but when we take something from the refrigerator we are always faced with the existential question: to the file system, or to the trash.

A Million Magnets is an attempt to present a user with an infinite refrigerator door organized with the metaphors of space, scraps and magnets. Using a pass-through scanner and a touchscreen mounted to a refrigerator door, along with a web-based infrastructure, a user scans and files a scrap in a virtual space. Scraps are categorized, searched and presented in a variety of ways. A Million Magnets removes the limitations of space, first by allowing users to store virtually any number of scraps, but also allowing disparate users access to shared scraps through the touchscreen. In this context, the refrigerator door becomes a hole poked in space, allowing users to explore things others have posted.

A refrigerator holds important reminders and funny drawings, so A Million Magnets attempts to be a practical solution, as well as a way of returning serendipity to a connected world, where everything is easy to find. I hope A Million Magnets causes people to think about the relationship between the physical world and the virtual world. I intend for people to find things they didn't know they were looking for.

Donald Norman:

I plan to construct the Refrigerator Door using a pass-through scanner, a touchscreen and a web server.