Memory as Augmented Reality

6 Sep

Pennellwood Water Tower, OvergrownOr, Pennellwood: Years Later

Pennellwood was summer.  It was childhood.  It was long days of sunscreen and endless nights of bugspray, weeks that seemed to last for months – it was summer camp, for the whole family.

Pennellwood was underwanter; the business plan wasn’t sustainable.  It closed, but our family traditions didn’t.  So we looked for something else, a new place in which to continue.  We found it, but it wasn’t the same.  We spent days by the pool and nights tending bar.  (Some things about family camp change when you grow up.)  But a large part of the time, we spent talking about Pennellwood.  Remembering it, missing it, wishing that we were there instead.  Leaving the new camp today, someone suggested that we go to Pennellwood.  Just to see what it had become.

Pennellwood Pools ThenAnd it was strange and weird and happy and sad and confusing.  It was the same space, but not the same place.  Pennellwood takes up such a large place in my head and in my heart, I thought it would be big in real life.  But it was tiny and desolate.  I remember running across the grounds, feeling like I was free to go anywhere that I wished.  But, today, I realized that it was small.  Having the run of the place meant about the same thing as being free to run around my cul-de-sac.

Walking around Pennellwood was like being in augmented reality.  My memories were layered upon what I was seeing.  That empty field, my cabin stood there, the tiny bug infested cabin with my bunk bed that always wet because my sister’s bathing suit was dripping on it.  That new building, it’s over the place where my grandparents stayed, where they introduced us to eating stinky cheese and always had chocolate covered peanuts to hand out.  My dad used to fall asleep on a picnic table under that tree.  And that pool, now covered over with tarps and leaves, it’s where I never could learn to dive.  The lake and the trees are the only things that remain the same.  They’ve taken the wood from our cabins, and used it to create steps leading down to the lake.  So, yeah, I’m literally walking on my memories.

Maggie and Dan at PennellwoodI didn’t know what I wanted to find going there today.  Actually, I didn’t really want to go at all.  I guess I thought that I wanted to find kids happily playing, shouting, and running around.  But really, I wanted to see myself 20 years earlier.  And my brother in his awesome 80s pink and black bathing suit.  I wanted to find my baby cousins (now teenagers) walking up and down the ramp to the dining hall over and over again.  I wanted to see my sisters in the sandbox and my Dad asleep again on a picnic table, my Mom playing cards with my aunts.  I wanted to see my own history.

But it was quiet.  Being there, time didn’t turn backwards.  My sisters weren’t young again.  There were no bathing suits in sight.  The sandbox was gone and so were the children.  It was quiet.  It felt like a memorial service for a loved one that we’d lost.  We walked around slowly, arms crossed and eyes down.  We talked quietly about our favorite memories, trying to soak up the essence of the space.  But the spirit of Pennellwood was gone.  There wasn’t any fun.  There wasn’t any singing.  There definitely weren’t any cannon ball contests.

The Campfire Then

This is how I see it.

Because I document everything, I carried my camera around, snapping pictures every few feet.  (If Maggie goes to Pennellwood and there’s not a Facebook album about it, did it really happen?)  And I considered what it would be like to have all of my pictures of my time at Pennellwood (my family has thousands of them) accessible to me.  If I could pull them up on that screen and fit the background of the picture with the setting of the place – to really see exactly where my sister had danced, where my brother had played.

I wanted to augment my reality with my memories.  At the click of a button, or a thought, I wanted a memory layer, a memory filter, to show up on top of the real place.  I wanted my own personal app, where geo-tagged photos would show up on the screen as I approached the places where they had been taken.  Where location-coded videos would play when I got near their points of origin.  I wanted to walk over to the fire pit and hear the songs that we had sung at the campfire.

Pennellwood campfire now

This is how it really is.

Of course, it didn’t happen like that, but I think that one day it could.  We’re already seeing augmented reality applications.  Adds that pop up on your phone when you approach a restaurant, letting you “see” the daily deals.  Apps that register the landmark at which your phone is pointing and give you its information and history.  Apps that draw the constellations on the part of the sky that you can see.  So, why can’t I augment my own layer of personal reality?  If an app can see the Statue of Liberty’s history, why can’t it see mine?

Pennellwood Picnic TableI want to be able to share what I see with others.  To return to Pennellwood, or somewhere equally special, with someone I care about and say, “Look, this is what I see here.  Not the empty field, but a cabin with a picnic table in front of it, crawling with kids doing arts and crafts.”  I want him to be able to see it, not to picture it, but to really see what I see, because he can see the picture in the space and can see the memory.  I want him to hear the kids laughing and the cat calls during the ping-pong tournaments, all of which are sitting in my computer, at home, in digitized video.  I don’t want him to hear only the wind and see only the grass.  And I want to go to his special places and see and hear what he does.

I want a portable pensive.  I want a real Young Me, Now Me.  And I want to be able to share it.  I want to be able to connect, not just in the now, but in the then.

Questions of the day: Which places live in your memories?  Do you go there and see what they’ve become?  Or do you only visit them when you close your eyes or look at your pictures?  Would you share those memories if you could?

MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.  Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

6 Responses to “Memory as Augmented Reality”

  1. Megan Romberg September 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    This almost made me cry… I’m going to count myself as being mentioned in here, because we all know that bright yellow speck at the campfire is really me. It’s definitely hard to see what has happened. Pennellwood may be gone, but we have memories and a second set of family to last us FOREVER. It stinks that some people we love will never get to fully grasp the Pennellwood experience, but through stories, pictures, and videos, hopefully they can at least somewhat see what you see. Plus maybe one day you’ll find your own special place with someone you love, like your own “Pennellwood” (Okay, nothing can compare to Pennellwood, but you know what I’m saying…) and it will be (close to) just as great as the memories we’ve all shared.

    • Jessica Romberg September 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

      Aww, I love you both.
      Pennellwood will always live in our hearts and memories.
      I really wanted to take my own family there one day but it is not possible.
      I am just glad that our families were brought close by sharing our love for pennellwood.
      I love you all!!

      Really great blog Maggie 🙂

      • Maggie O'Toole September 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

        Thank you Megan and Jessica! It’s sad that even some of my younger cousins don’t really remember Pennellwood and can’t see what we see. I was talking about it with Delaney the other day and she had more questions than memories.

        I do hope that we all find a new place. Who knows, maybe next year in Mexico!

  2. Kellie mizel January 10, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Seriously made me cry! Wish there was a way for everyone to pitch in to bring Pennellwood back to life again! We all have families of our own now and I want more than anything for our kids to be able to take part in something that had such a huge impact on ours!!


  1. Memory as Augmented Reality | Augmented Reality News and Trends | - September 7, 2011

    […] Memory as Augmented Reality Or, Pennellwood: Years Later Pennellwood was summer.  It was childhood.  It was long days of sunscreen and endless nights of bugspray, weeks that seemed to last for months – it was summer camp… Source: […]

  2. Memory as Augmented Reality | qrcodes et R.A. | - September 9, 2011

    […] Memory as Augmented Reality Or, Pennellwood: Years Later Pennellwood was summer.  It was childhood.  It was long days of sunscreen and endless nights of bugspray, weeks that seemed to last for months – it was summer camp… Source: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: