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The Point, Beadnell, Northumberland

Fig.1 The Point, Beadnell, Northumberland

TWO: Fishing off the Point, late afternoon

THREE: Sunrise on the Point, early morning

FOUR: sunrise on the Point, early morning

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

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Sunrise over the North Sea

ONE: Sunrise across the North Sea from the Point, Beadnell

I’m up before dawn. There are stars still in the sky as I head from Beadnell Village along the sea wall road to the fishermen’s harbour. I clamber over the rocks onto the Point to catch the sun as it appears around 8H25.

TWO: The 18th century lime kilns and the harbour, medieval in origin and heightened in the late 19th century.

THREE: Hard to pick out using a fish-eye lens across Beadnell Bay to the immediate south, but that is Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance.

FOUR: Dunstanburgh Castle

Why is the way the sun starts and ends the day such a special moment? This last week, wherever I have been up and down and across England the sunrise and sunsets have been fabulous. From the point on Beadnell Bay on the northern edge of the Northumberland coast, to the Cotswolds and home on the south Sussex coast.

The Point was used for Bronze Age burials and also for early Christian worship. Is the clear view of the sun from rise to fall part of the reason for this?

Playtime in the fisherman’s boat

Now there are two, but there was only we could play in at our backdoor when we stayed here as children. A second was upturned and full of nettles. There is film of a five, six, seven, eight and nine year old sitting in this boat: cousins.

Rock clambering around Beadnell

 

Favourite places to explore a  child, to watch the waves, to catch the light of the Longstone Lighthouse, to search for eye-catching pebbles.

Searching for treasure on the rocks at Beadnell

Fig.1 The pebbles on the rock beach, Beadnell, Northumberland

Head down to watch you step on slippery rocks gives you the chance to hunt for treasure. As a boy I returned home with interesting stones and fossils. Forty years on I see what could be a piece of ripening fruit, an ammonite and a stone covered in tiny balls of frozen water which won’t last ten minutes in the late December son.

The perils of the Beadnell Rocks

Fig.1 The sea racing in along rock fissures on the easterly facing pebble and rock beaches of Beadnell

This fingers of seaweed covered rock are a short walk from the cottage where we stayed every Easter and Summer from as early as I can remember. Age seven or eight I was usually off on my own or with friends to hunt through the rock pools at low tide or to fish. I lost a rod around here and had to make a snap decision: enter the weed to try and retrieve it, or accept the lost. I accepted the loss. A boy growing up around here has considerable respect for the evil of the sea, its depth and desire to cling you in.

More to remember about Beadnell …

Fig.1 Dunstanburgh Castle from Beadnell Bay at dusk this morning

Fig.2 The tide coming in across The Point, Beadnell at sun up.

Fig.3 Something I never knew about The Point where I played as a child. 

Fig.4 The sea pushing in through fissures between the rocks and pools

Fig.5. The low cliffs, fingers of rock and pools where I scrambled.

Fig.6 A drain that intrigued me age 5, or 6 or 7. In a storm the waves came up through it. 

This was my playground until the age of 11 or 12. Easter, Summer and even half-term and weekends were spent here. Just two walks forty years later and the smell of wet sand in the dunes takes me back to being a boy – easy to scrambled around the dunes when you are seven. The rocks, the different textures under foot, the mesmerising waves that approached closer along the rocks as the tide came in, the birds and occasional seal, the Longstone Lighthouse always flashing its presence in the distance.

The foghorn lulled me to sleep. The noise of waves constantly crashing on the rocks changes from the loud chatting of people before the curtain goes up, to a jet coming into land … it rumbles gently, or angrily according to its mood (and yours).

Yesterday I had the briefest of conversations with someone who had a deep Northumbrian accent that sounds like Norweigian spoken with an English accent.

Somehow had left two unfinished cups of coffee and a big of a burger on the stonewall above the rocks. I carried it for 15 minutes until I found a bin. The flotsam is different to forty years ago: red bull and a body board.

A few days in Beadnell

Fig.1 The Point, Beadnell, Northumberland. Sunrise, 28th December 2014

This morning I set off on a tour of my childhood holiday destination, the Northumberland fishing village of Beadnell; age something to 11 this is where we spent every Easter and Summer, many half-terms and weekends too.

Fig. 2. The rocks, looking north east from Beadnell Village towards the Farnes Islands and the Longstone Lighthouse.

I grew up amongst the rocks, the pools, on the shingle and grit beaches and walking and exploring the sandy bay, dunes, 18th century lime kilns and ancient harbour. A visit once a decade brings back found memories of fishing around in pools exposed by the retreating tide, collecting fossils, clambering on low cliffs, fishing off the harbour wall, playing ‘kick the can’ in the dunes, making dams in the water outfly halfway around the bay, the ‘quick sand’ around the mouth of the river and sliding down sandy dunes.

I see our cottage, learning to ride a bike, my father’s keys locked in the car, roses up the side of the house, my grandfather in the shed making toy boats, my mother in the kitchen cooking shrimps …

Forty five years ago.

Little things come to mind: the different texture of pebbles, grit, sand, cliff-top grass to the feet. The fingers that jut into the north sea are made from volcanic rock.

Fig. 3 The ‘Point’ Beadnell.

The memories of jelly fish dead on the beach, of eating crabs being landed by fisherman very early on a summer’s morning, their net sheds, the clanking of halyards on sailing dinghies now gone – no boats in moored in the bay where once there were too long rows, many of the dune now thick with gorse designed to protect them. A noisy place now quiet.

Fig.4 The public footpath from the beach caravan park across fields to Beadnell Village.

I pass through a ‘kissing gate.’ Age six or so I was told that one also kissed when passing through such a gate, and for decades after I enforced this culture on others: kiss the person behind as you pass through the gate.

Walking through the old village I turn away from the tiny cemetery by the church under the rookery as it spooked me as a boy and it spooks me now.

Fig.5 The view to the old harbour and lime kilns, Beadnell Bay at low tide. Dusk. 28th December 2014. 

Digital content, like its liquid equivalent in a digital ocean, has an extraordinary ability to leak out.

Gordon Bell

Gordon Bell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fig.1. Gordon Bell, ready for action – lifelogging for a decade

The biggest problem with lifelogging as it is conceived of by Gordon Bell (2009)  is that the camera points away from the protagonist rather than at them.

Far better the record of the person’s facial expressions as they go about their daily business as an indication of what is going on their minds – which is otherwise impossible to suggest unless a running commentary is offered. Though of course, the contribution of the running commentary, let alone the wearing of the device and its being on changes the record. This cannot therefore be an objective documentary record, as if a zoological research study. And then, what do you legally do with images you get not just outside, but inside the someone’s house.

This content is implicitly for private and singular consumption only, but it would pick up images that others could use in illicit ways.

Fig. 2. The Point, Beadnell. A memory forever for my encounters with nature on this stick of rock pointing into the North Sea.

Digital content, like its liquid equivalent in a digital ocean, has an extraordinary ability to leak out.

I don’t believe Bell’s attitudes regarding privacy are headed for extinction, but some people will choose to keep as much as possible private while others will go to great lengths to expose and disclose everything – in both situations there is for better and for worse. (Bell and Gemmel, 2009 p. 213)

If 10,000 asthmatics revealed their health related lifelog in real time how soon would researchers be able to act on this? If alcoholics wore a lifelog would their drinking stop and certainly drink-driving be over forever? What a field day psychologists would have and what they would learn about all kinds of things such as depression, bipolar or ADHD.

Bell introduces us to a Speechome where a couple have turned their house in the set of the TV show Big Brother, with cameras everywhere. (Bell and Gemmel 2006. p. 114)

Their son hasn’t had a choice – there is a ‘total record’ of his development over this period. Is it right to use your own child in this way? And can a record such as this be called a ‘corpus’ ? It isn’t a scientific study, just a CCTV record. This is where Bell’s language is, throughout, skewed in favour of the system and methodologies he is expounding. He would do far greater justice to his actions if his record where the subject of academic study, the publication of peer review and therefore the release to academics of the record he has kept. Someone will volunteer this if he won’t.

Part of our era is the sharing and connectivity of information and the way it is transformed through collective experience and comment … even trailblasing many others to do the same.

Fig. 3 Stephen Gough the bloke who refused to put any clothes on – anywhere, ever. A form of obsession.

There is a character from Scotland who insists on living his life naked.

He is consequently arrested repeatedly. It strikes me, I’m afraid that Gordon Bell might be evangelical about being naked … but will keep his clothes on. Like an omnivore selling the virtues of veganism, while eating everything under the sun. Or will Bells 10/15 year lifelog be released to researchers on his death?

‘Most of us are well along the path to outsourcing our brains to some form or e-memory’. Bell says (2009. p 119).

Should we scrutinise this for some scientific value? ‘Most of us …’ meaning?

From a study of 1000, or 2000 people.

Who, where do they live, what is their educational background?

Their access to digital kit and networks? Are they representative of the 6 billion on the planet, or just a community of Silicon Valley Computer engineers? ‘Most of us … ‘ implies that this could be the self-selecting readership of the book. Who would read it if they could empathise? ‘Well along the path’ implies that already there is a groundswell, a desired adoption of these kinds of technologies.
On what basis is this to be believed?

Are there are number of ‘diffusion of innovation’ studies current in order to measure this? What is the benchmark? What are the parameters of the path?

‘Our brains’ – by what definition either ‘ours’ or even ‘brains’.

A living organ cannot be outsourced can it? This isn’t like making a donation to a sperm bank. There is no means to store any component of our brains nor has anything more that a gallery of images or a storage space for documents yet been developed. There is no electronic memory. Even if you want to call a relational database on a hard drive an e-memory it cannot be – no amount of juggling the electronic pack of cards will turn an audio file, a still image or video into the memory. Indeed, the only possible association with a memory is when someone looks at them and a memory forms in their mind – and what is more, anyone at all, looking at or hearing or viewing these records will also form memories. i.e. they are the enablers of memory recall, or thought creation, they are a catalyst, but they can never be the memory.

The idea of gathering a substantial part of one’s life experience fascinates me, as it has often inspired others


Fig. 1. Hands by Escher.

The danger is for it to become one’s modus operandi, that the act of gathering is what you become. I recall many decades ago, possibly when I started to keep a diary when I was 13, a documentary – that can no doubt now be found on the Internet – on a number of diarists. There were not the well-known authors or celebrity politicians, but the obscure keeper of the heart beat, those who would toil for two hours a day writing about what they had done, which was to edit what they’d written about the day before … if this starts to look like a drawing by Escher then perhaps this illustrates how life-logging could get out of hand, that it turns you inside out, that it causes implosion rather than explosion. It may harm, as well as do good. We are too complex for this to be a panacea or a solution for everybody.

A myriad of book, TV and Film expressions of memory, its total recall, false recall, falsehoods and precisions abound. I think of the Leeloo in The Fifth Element learning about Human Kind flicking through TV Channels.

Fig. 2. Leeloo learns from TV what the human race is doing to itself

Always the shortcut for an alien to get into our collective heads and history. Daryl Hannah does it in Splash too. Digitisation of our existence, in part or total, implies that such a record can be stored (it can) and retrieved in an objective and viable way (doubtful). Bell (2009) offers his own recollections, sci-fi shorts and novels, films too that of course push the extremes of outcomes for the purposes of storytelling rather than seeking more mundane truth about what digitization of our life story may do for us.


Fig. 3. Swim Longer, Faster

There are valid and valuable alternatives – we do it anyway when we make a gallery of family photos – that is the selective archiving of digital memory, the choices over what to store, where to put it, how to share then exploit this data. I’m not personally interested in the vital signs of Gordon Bell’s heart-attack prone body, but were I a young athlete, a competitive swimmer, such a record during training and out of the pool is of value both to me and my coach.

I am interested in Gordon Bell’s ideas – the value added, not a pictoral record of the 12-20 events that can be marked during a typical waking day, images grabbed as a digital camera hung around his neck snaps ever 20-30 seconds, or more so, if it senses ‘change’ – gets up, moves to another room, talks to someone, browses the web … and I assume defecates, eats a meal and lets his eyes linger on … whatever takes his human fancy.

How do we record what the mind’s eye sees?

How do we capture ideas and thoughts? How do we even edit from a digital grab in front of our eyes and pick out what the mind is concentrating on? A simple click of a digital camera doesn’t do this, indeed it does the opposite – it obscure the moment through failing to pick out what matters. Add sound and you add noise that the mind, sensibly filters out. So a digital record isn’t even what is being remembered. I hesitate as I write – I here two clocks. No, the kitchen clock and the clicking of the transformer powering the laptop. And the wind. And the distant rumble of the fridge. This is why I get up at 4.00am. Fewer distractions. I’ve been a sound engineer and directed short films. I understand how and why we have to filter out extraneous noises to control what we understand the mind of the protagonist is registering. If the life-logger is in a trance, hypnotized, day dreaming or simply distracted the record from the device they are wearing is worse than an irrelevance, it is actually a false cue, a false record.

Fig. 4. Part of the brain and the tiniest essence of what is needed to form a memory

Mind is the product of actions within a biological entity. To capture a memory you’d have to capture an electro-chemical instance across hundreds of millions of synapses.


Fig. 5. Diving of Beadnell Harbour, 1949. My later mother in her teens.

An automatically harvested digital record must often camouflage what might have made the moment a memory. I smell old fish heads and I see the harbour at Beadnell where as a child fisherman brought in a handful of boats every early morning. What if I smell old fish as I take rubbish to recycle? Or by a bin down the road from a fish and chip shop. What do my eyes see, and what does my mind see?

I love the messiness of the human brain – did evolution see this coming?

In ‘Delete’ Mayer-Schönberger (2009. p. 1) suggests that forgetting, until recently was the norm, whereas today, courtesy of our digital existences, forgetting has become the exception.

I think we still forget – we don’t try to remember phone numbers and addresses as we think we have them in our phone – until we wipe or lose the thing. In the past we’d write them down, even make the effort to remember the things. It is this need to ‘make an effort’ to construct a memory that I fear could be discombobulated.

I’m disappointed though that Mayer-Schönberger stumbles for the false-conception ‘digital natives’ – this is the mistaken impression that there exists a generation that is more predisposed and able than any other when it comes to all things digital. Kids aren’t the only ones with times on their hands, or a passion for the new, or even the budget and will to be online. The empirical evidence shows that the concept of a digital native is unsound – there aren’t any. (Jones et al, 2010., Kennedy et al, 2009., Bennet and Maton, 2010., Ituma, 2011)

The internet and digital possibilities have not created the perfect memory. (Mayer-Schönberger 2009. p. 3)

To start with how do we define ‘memory’ ?

A digital record is an artefact, it isn’t what is remembered at all. Indeed, the very nature of memory is that it is different every time you recall a fact or an event. It becomes nuanced, and coloured. It cannot help itself.

Fig. 6. Ink drops as ideas in a digital ocean

A memory like drops of ink in a pond touches different molecules every time you drip, drip, drip. When I hear a family story of what I did as a child, then see the film footage I create a false memory – I think I remember that I see, but the perspective might be from my adult father holding a camera, or my mother retelling the story through ‘rose tinted glasses’.


Fig. 7. Not the first attempt at a diary, that was when I was 11 ½ . ‘A day in the life of … ‘ came to a close with breakfast after some 500 words.

I kept a diary from March 1973 to 1992 or so. I learnt to write enough, a few bullet points in a five year diary in the first years – enough to recall other elements of that day. I don’t need the whole day.

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