Can a Smell Recorder Capture Memories Better Than a Camera?

Photographs are a dime a dozen these days. Wait, no — they’re worth even less than that. In a day and age when taking a photo means pointing a handheld smartphone at a grinning idiot and pressing a button, images are often meaningless and easily disposable.

Photo via amyradcliffe.co.uk

Photo via amyradcliffe.co.uk

But what about smells? Digital images are essentially throwaway items, so could an aroma better capture a mood or event?

London, UK-based designer Amy Radcliffe thinks so. That’s why she created the Madeline, a device that holds onto smells.

The idea: Sniffing stored odors at a later date will bring important memories flooding back in a way Facebook photos just can’t match.

The Madeline is a strange-looking device, but it’s by no means new. In fact, scientists in the fragrance industry have been using technology like it for years.

In order to capture a smell, an object is placed inside a glass dome connected by an air hose to an odor trap. Recording a smell isn’t an instantaneous process; it can take hours or even days to properly capture the aroma of a chosen item.

(That makes me wonder if you’re capturing the moment associated with the smell or just the memory of the smell storage process.)

It’s a very delicate process, but that’s the intention.

“Your odor memories are very fragile; if you smell something too often you’ll erase that memory,” Radcliffe says. “With the Madeline you snap them open, get a hit of that memory, and then it’s gone.”

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