10 Grand SOUVENIR
This piece of writing is inspired by a phone card from the BT archives. Launched in 1997 to celebrate the handover of Hong Kong, a card that once marked a historical moment and fashionable technology now has lost both its use value and exchange value. Unquestionably, this phone card has cultural, technological and post-colonial significance. My interest in it, however, was this: with the digitisation of an ephemeral card from an online archive, I wondered what gets lost and how the value of the card changes.
Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska introduce the idea of the “souvenir” in their book The Value of Things, which describes the “quality wrapped around an object rather than the object itself” (Cummings and Lewandowska, 2000, pp.39-40). They argue that in today’s highly commodified society, it is rather difficult to find where we belong; and giving objects the quality of a “souvenir” is to fabricate our inheritance. For ephemeral objects lying in the museum, they are fundamentally indistinguishable from commodities being displayed in London’s Selfridges department store in terms of cultural and economic values -- they are the “symbolic economy”. Perhaps, with the digitisation of an archive, the focus of its physicality and aesthetics will gradually become redundant, and replaced by intangible auras of its inheritance that are rendered through the digital.
Therefore, I imagined a speculative future currency to represent ephemeral objects that exist in a ‘data-fied’ world, where people live for memories. This speculative fiction questions the change of values ephemeral things undergo, and reflects on the sacrifice of the physical for connectivity and convenience in the current context. No matter how much life has been meshed into networks, it still inevitably relies on physical infrastructure, which is usually less valued by economies and mass media.