Old Processes, New Technologies

It is perhaps appropriate that Mayfly emerged from the chance discovery of an old guide-book in a second-hand bookshop. The beginning of our thinking and our first set of products are both material objects – things that you can pick up and hold in your hands. Rather than seeing the digital and material as opposed, we are interested in how they interact and the ways that the digital can enhance both physical objects and our experiences of the material world.

Like many of the other projects and products that our funders/supporters, REACT, showcased recently at The Rooms Festival, we don’t want digital technologies to equate with a screen-based experience. Rather, the screen – in our case of an iPhone – becomes a tool that enables users to listen, and re-listen, to the sounds of people and places. The act of listening back to the recordings, is a magical moment when my phone is strangely transformed into a naturalist’s magnifying glass trained on one of the mayflies on the journal or stickers that releases the sounds of people and places. The possibilities for the digital enabling moments of wonder is what interests us. Here the screen becomes, not an end in itself, but a tool to add layers to the material thing that I hold in my hand.

That material thing is hugely important to us. With the stickers, it is the very things that they are stuck to that Mayfly Sound Stickers enhance and add value to. Sitting down with granny to talk through an old family photograph album, the stickers the capture those reminiscences only serve to bring an extra layer of lasting value to those photographs and that album. With the Mayfly Sound Journal, we have sought to create not only a treasure chest of memories – of people and place – but also something to be treasured. That is why we have drawn on traditional printing techniques – such as the early 19th c. process of die casting to create the embossed mayfly on the cover of the journals – and beautiful hand-drawn illustrations in the tradition of 19th and early 20th c. natural history engravings alongside 21st c. visual recognition software.

All our Mayflies seek to marry the digital and the physical and use the former to enhance the latter. They also draw on older craft techniques and hand-made qualities as well as the latest in digital technologies. Working in the digital and with future oriented technologies does not mean throwing away either the material or the past. We see the best of digital design to lie in the interface of old and new, digital and material. That is where the magic lies.

By Tim Cole, Co-Director of Mayfly Sound and Professor of Social History at University of Bristol