In order to answer the question how digital data is becoming meaningful I compared the properties and benefits of digital and physical objects. (more information can be found in the book “The Digital Afterlife” pg. 16)
Some insights I had:
Physical objects are tangible and can be held in the same way over generations, as a result owners can physically connect with each other. Digital object, in contrast, are intangible, to actually hold a digital object a device (like iPad) is needed. Therefore the meaningful digital data itself can never be held and the owner can only connect with previous owners through content.
Physical objects can break down and show age, that points out that the object has survived time and events: it tells a story. Because digital object do not age, they do not show this quality, but meaning can be added by additional information (metadata) which can grow over time.
Physical objects are taking up physical space, which can become a visible place in someones life. Digital objects require minimal space and is not necessarily visible, however the act of revisiting a digital object can be a good opportunity to create a meaningful experience.