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Is an App on WW1 better than an eBook and better than a book?

Dan Snow. “Clearly an App is better than a book for history.”

This is a fascinating insight into the way we learn and educate is changing with students exploring, creating and sharing from an App ‘smôrgasbord’ of rich, interactive content.

I picked up this thread in the WW1 Buffs Facebook pages

This conversation will keep me busy for several months. The debate on the guardian site is heated, personal and too often Luddite in tone. Why try to say that a book is better than an eBook is better than an App that is ‘book-like?’ I’ll be pitching in as I believe what he argues is right and applies immediately to Geography too. I‘ve studied online learning, history and geography – all to Masters level. I’m not an historian, geographer or an educator: I’m simply deeply curious and fascinated by the way we learn.

Key to Apps is immediacy, relevancy and motivation.

Put content into a student’s hands in a way they appreciate: at their fingertips, multi-sensory and connected. An App can take all that is a book, and add several books and angles; all that is TV or Radio and have the person sit up, create content of their own, form views, share opinions and therefore learn, develop and remember.

The Pity of War (1998) by Niall Ferguson – towards a comprehensive book review

A review by J F Vernon of ‘The Pity of War’ (1998) Niall Ferguson

‘[The Pity of War’, despite its personal, gentle and engaging introduction seeing the war through  the experiences of a long dead grandfather, is not a deliberately popular narrative of the First World War – it neither covers the chronology of events, nor the detail of particular battles as so many other books do. Although written, in some hurry, to come out in time for  the 80th Anniversary of the November 1918 Armistice, ‘The Pity of War’ hardly cashes in, as it is a serious, in-depth, closely referenced and at times a specialist read.

Fig.1. Grab from a detailed mindmap created using SimpleMinds+

‘The Pity of War’ is thoroughly research, meticulous, and often original, it is weighty and shows that he is very well read. It is referenced every full-stop of the way. He may show a bias to having studied in German in Germany.

The audience for ‘The Pity of War’, you imagine, is the graduate historians, or economic historian or the well-read Western Front buff. ‘The Pity of War’ flips with intricate relish some of the myths that have arisen in relation to the First World War while the toughest and most specialist read at the core of the book is a study of the financial health of the combatant nations. Needless to say, there is an overwhelming wealth of insightful detail, all of it meticulously referenced.

Fig.2. Grab from a detailed mindmap created using SimpleMinds+ Reading an eBook on the Kindle platform ‘KL’ refers to ‘Kindle Location’

Some of the content covered:

  • Cinemas and newsreels, filmmakers, newspapers,

  • Workers wages, productivity and strikes, the choking off of imported fertilisers and the damage this did to the ability of Germany to feed itself, the shambles of procurement,

  • Writers and academics for the war, a militarised Monopoly,

  • British espionage,

  • Domestic morale, an army of incapable of improvisation, beauty in death and how mustard gas putting paid to the kilt.

  • The two Ks ‘Maynard Keynes and Karl Kraus’

  • Surrender as the outcome

  • Shilly-shallying of Grey and the cabinet

Fig.3. Grab from a detailed mindmap created using SimpleMinds+ The yellow lines related to the myriad of ‘insightful’ points picked up while reading the book.

  • It’s all like a big picnic, announced one Officer bored with his life at home,

  • Blockading Germany,

  • The real rivals were Britain, Russia and France,

  • Military travel plans,

  • Cannae and Schlieffen, the aftermath,

  • Bethman’s bid for neutrality, homosexuality,

  • The international bond market and the cost of the arms race which was low,

Fig.4. Grab from a detailed mindmap created using SimpleMinds+

  • The Anglo-French Cordiale April 1904,

  • Egypt,

  • French loans to Russia from 1886,

  • Reichstad’s control of military expenditure, the Weimar economy, wrecked itself, not war reparations, a Pyrrhic victory, losers all, a soldier’s comforts,

Fig.5. Grab from a detailed mindmap created using SimpleMinds+ Here are some of the myths that Ferguson aimed to rebut or debunk.

  • Ambivalence to the war,

  • not donkeys but hindered by deference to superiors,

  • The AEF did no ‘win the war’ and relied on outmoded tactics,

  • overwhelming naval superiority,

  • the desire for war by the public and politicians

The greatest value of ‘The Pity of War’ may be as a reference guiding those with particular niche interests in the poets, art of films of the war, on the Keynesian economics and finance of the Germany, of bankers, as well as politicians and generals, on the literature since the war and the rebutting and debunking of many of the myths and misconceptions that have developed over the many decades as new generations have interpreted the war to suit their own sensibilities.

Fig.6. Grab from a detailed mindmap created using SimpleMinds+ In orange some of the many historians, authors and commentators who are cited. 

Historians, commentators and writers referenced include:

  • Alan Clarke
  • John Terraine
  • J.M.Bourne
  • Martin Samuels
  • Theo Balderston
  • Martin van Creveld
  • Correlli Barret
  • Laffel
  • Paddy Griffith
  • Martin Holmes
  • Lidell Hart
  • Norman Stone
  • Gudmanson
  • Travers
  • Graham
  • Michael Howard
  • Karl Kraus
  • Hew Strachan
  • Michael Geyer

Ferguson has a formidable reputation as an historian, academically he is attached to two of the leading universities in the world: Oxford and Harvard while as a presenter and commentator he has a presence on television. He gained his MA and D.Phil in History from the University of Oxford, spending several years studying and researching at the University of Hamburg, where his interest in the personalities and mechanics and international finance in the early part of the 19th century developed, in this respect his focus naturally tends towards Germany at the expense say of France and Russia and the Balkans. Ferguson confounds what might be the ground rules of historical study by liking to second guess events, these ‘counter factuals’ imagine what might have occurred ‘if?’ Do these offer insight, or do they confuse, especially where at times Ferguson is emphatic that events would have gone a certain way if x or y had or had not happened. He edited and write for an anthology of such ‘counter factuals’ so clearly believes they are a valid way to gain insight, though it may also show an interest in literature and fiction, rather than just the nots and bolts of the professional historian.

Ferguson is a driven, passionate, even obsessive historian determined to make his point or counter-point with a relentless catalogue of evidence. His modus operandi in this text is to get at his ‘truth’ of the First World War by addressing common questions and myths. He undoes several and turns others on their head, often in a convincing way, though sometimes doubts remain, though further pursuit of the references should help the reader come to their own conclusions. The crudest structure of the book is to take ten difficult questions and query their validity – you then wonder if this has been akin to setting ten tough graduate assignments, and that answering them in his own professorial voice.

He is a mighty white, British middle-class intellect, who acknowledges the humble background of his council-house dwelling grandfather – the First World War veteran, shares with us his own grammar school education, then brushes up against the Oxford Union types of his alma mater and reveals a tone regarding officers in the war that is critical of what public schools produced at the time and is anti the British gentry of the period too.

‘The Pity of War’ receives glowing reviews in the Press and professors from leading universities have reviewed it, enjoying the challenge of meeting him square on, applauding some of his insights, but offering criticism of other conclusions.

There is no doubt ‘The Pity of War’ adds substantially to a broader and deeper understanding of the First World War, though it should be seen as a book that complements, rather than replaces texts that provide the chronology, conflict and causes in a more systematic, and less judgmental manner.

Ferguson’s authority can become a barrier, certainly there are parts of his thesis where it is a struggle to take on board the evidence that requires some understanding of international finance and economics. Where there are few, if any, similarly informed authorities it is difficult to know how to challenge some of his views – was Germany really more efficient at killing people? Is it creditable to put a price on a combatant’s head? Money, Ferguson argues, tells a different story to that offered by historians in the past. Easier to comprehend and therefore to engage with are his portraits of men with ambitions and efforts to blame.

The title ‘The Pity of War’ says little about the book’s contents.

The words are not those of the author, but rather taken from one of the war poets. The ‘war poets’ are one aspect of the misconceptions that have developed around the First World War, hijacking how people felt about the war at the time with a post-war negative and sentimentalized view.

Ferguson picks out ten questions to scrutinise, myths to unwind, misconceptions to set straight, as well as original views of his own. Like a postgraduate making his case at the Oxford Union, Ferguson that strips out the facts and attacks each in turn often in meticulous detail, all referenced and from a single perspective. Ferguson doesn’t sit on the fence, he has an opinion and makes it forcefully. For example, when he states that, ‘without the war of attrition on the Western Front, Britain’s manpower, its economy and its vastly superior financial resources could not have been brought to bear on Germany sufficiently to ensure victory’ (KL 10193) is stated as an absolute with a counterfactual offered as the alternative – Britain would have had to comprise rather than fight on in any other way.


Fig.7. Grab from an annotated page from the eBook version of ‘The Pity of War’ (used the App ‘Studio’)

The references is often dense, not a sentence on a page without a footnote or citation.

Ferguson puts the loosest of chronologies at the core of the ten questions he addresses and makes no apologies for avoiding where other authors have already been, indeed he offers a reading list for those wanting a chronology of events or the minutiae of the fields of conflict themselves. The arguments he makes are not always convincing – he appears at time to be contrary for the sake of it. There is little doubt that the book is a personal journey that though multifaceted is not comprehensive; as well as a lack of narrative or of conflict there is little said on women, on the Home Front, on the technology, not equally fascinating facets of the war from underage soldiering and the execution for cowardice of deserters. There are nonetheless some fascinating insights: Germany’s actions where founded on fear of their weakness, not belief in their strength; the Allies were not as gung-ho for war as the Press in particular suggested at times, it was surrender, rather than economic failings or the appearance of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF)  that lead to Germany’s defeat, a nation that clearly relished viciousness more so than the allies whose leaders were want to take repeated all or nothing gambles.

Fig.8. Grab from ‘The Pity of War’. The citation may be correct, but the author cited did not take these photographs. They are either still from the ‘Battle of the Somme’ or copies of photographs taken by the photographer who accompanied the ‘cameraman’.

Had as much care been taken with the images as the words then Ferguson would not have fallen into the trap of giving credit to Tropical Film Company Battle of the Somme film footage grabbed as stills by other authors in the past and offered as their own photographs.

Ferguson touches on, cites and lists a comprehensive range of historians, authors, dramatists, economists, poets and artists making ‘The Pity of War’ a desirable stepping off point, even learning design for a taught masters degree.

Fig.9. Grab from mindmap featuring possible errors in ‘The Pity of War’

He doesn’t always convince and there are errors that escape his eagle eyes (or those of his researchers). It is conjecture to say that Grey et al. exaggerated the threat of Germany despite intelligence. He suggests that a Tommy gets angry with a Jerry prisoner in the Battle of the Somme film without seeing that the man is injured and a prisoner inadvertently bumps into him, and regarding footage from this film shot he continues the calumny of authors who claim stills taken from the film footage or photographs taken by a photographer who travelled with one of the cinematographers, as Hart does, are part of their own photographic collection. Ferguson treats the movie ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ as biography, when its author Remarque saw little of the front line and it is conjecture to suggest that the EU would have resulted had Great Britain been late or stayed our of the war.  The argument that the central powers were somehow better at killing, maiming and taking prisoners ignores that they were largely on the defensive in conflicts which favoured defense. And that the loss of skilled workers to troops hugely impacted on the economy and our ability to wage war when hundreds of thousands of perfectly able women proved how good they were.

Fig.10. Grab from mindmap featuring possible bias in relation to the public-school educated landed gentry of the First World War era. 

Ferguson reveals some bias when he talks about Grey, Churchill and their ilk, from their public-school educated and landed gentry backgrounds. He has a dig at a public school type suited to Empire because of their qualities of leadership and loyalty when in truth young men in these establishments are a heterogeneous lot. And with Grey he has a go a cod psychology by trying to relate Grey the fly fisherman to Grey the foreign minister, in one particular incident thinking that Grey describing the challenge of landing a heavy salmon on lightweight tackle is at all like dealing with Germany on the brink of war. In such instances Ferguson is pushing it too far, it would make amusing TV or a witty point in a live debate at the Oxford Union, but it lacks conviction on the page.

Fig.11. Grab from mindmap suggesting that Ferguson is something of a dilettante, though he gives little time to the media ‘trivia’ that has emerged regarding the First World War on TV and in films. 

Ferguson is dismissive of media events such as as ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’, ‘Birdsong’ and ‘Gallipoli’, and goes light on the War poets and memoirs from veterans.  Though he shows a magpie dilettantism with mentions of invasion stories, art history and Penny dreadfuls.

Fig.12. Grab from mindmap that lists some of the authoritative historians Ferguson refers to.

‘The Pity of War’ by Niall Ferguson should be on any reading list the calims to be from the authorities on the First World War, alongside:

  • Barabara W. Tuchman ‘The Guns of August’

  • AJ P Taylor ‘The First World War’

  • Christopher Clark ‘The Sleepwalkers’

  • Trevor Wilson ‘The Myriad Faces of War’

  • Hew Strachan ‘First World War’

  • Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker ‘Understanding the Great War’

 

There are errors in ‘The Pity of War’. Here a picture taken by Ernest Brooks is misattributed. This happens surprisingly often – either stills from film footage are claimed as the authors or photographs taken by other people.  Does Richard Harte Butler claim to have been the photographer?

The correct attribution is to Ernest Brooks, and in this instance to a book on the shooting of the “Battle of the Somme’ film in 1916.

 

Reflections of a post-post graduate – the no-man’s land before a PhD

 

Fig. 1. How the eBrain looks – everything’s tagged. (Lost property, London Underground)

I’m delighted to say the Open University’s student blog upgrade is an enhancement. The improvements are seamless without any loss of what we had before … a ‘bulletin-board-cum-blog-thingey’.

Become an OU student to see this for yourself.

I will get Internet access in my ‘office’ – a studio down the road, away from home and family, DIY, the garden … but not the dog. She’s allowed.

All that it requires from me is something I lack – self-discipline NOT to get distracted by email, which includes updated postings from forums and the likes of Linkedin (let alone a gaggle of family members on Facebook). AOL is the worst as I innocently go to check email and find 20 minutes later I am still clicking through the inviting gobbets of news and sensation that is offered.

I had hoped to behave like the smoker trying to give up – I’ll only smoke other people’s fags. A very, very, very long time ago … I can honestly say I have never smoked a cigarette since I turned 20.

Back to the Internet. Like Television.

Or diet. We are living in an age where self-control is vital. Having not had a TV for several months I was eventually pushed to buy one. Courtesy of Which? we now have a TV so Smart that it probably tells my brother in South Africa who is watching what …. we can Skype sofa to sofa. I just wonder if our antics could be recorded and posted on YouTube? Not my doing but any of the teenagers with the wherewithal just hit a record button somewhere.

In all this hi-tech I DO have a tool I’d recommend to anyone.

I’ve invested in an hour-glass. In runs for 30 minutes. While that sand is running all I may do is read and take notes. This might be an eBook, or a printed book, either way they are on a bookstand. I take notes, fountain pen to lined paper. What could be easier? The left hand may highlight or bookmark and turn a page, while the right writes?

This works as the filtering process of the knowledge that I am reading and want to retain needs to go through several steps in any case. The handwritten notes will be reduced again as I go through, typing up the ideas that have some resonance for me.

My current task has been ‘How Europe went to war in 1914’ by Christopher Clark.

I doubt my second thorough read will be the last. From notes I will start posting blogs and going into related social platforms to share and develop thoughts and in so doing be corrected while firming up my own views. I need this social interaction, to join the discussion if not the debate.

Meanwhile I will revisit Martin Weller‘s book on Digital Scholarship.

However swift the age of the Internet may be he suggests it will still take a person ten years to achieve the ‘scholar’ level … whereas John Seely Brown recently reckoned this was now down to five years. i.e. through undergraduate and postgraduate levels and popping out the other end with a PhD in five years.

DIdn’t an 18 year old who was home schooled just get called to the Bar?

She graduated with a law degree while contemporaries did A’ Levels and finished High School and then did a year of pupilage I suppose.

The intellectual ‘have’s’ of the future will, by one means of another, achieve degree status at this age. The Internet permits it.

School is far, far, far, far, far too lax.

It tends to the median if not the mediocre. Long ago it found a way to process kids as a genderless year group instead of treading each student as an individual … so let them skip a year, let them stay back a year … allow them to expand and push subjects that appeal to them.

The Shallows – Nicholas Carr – I’m about to give up after Chapter 3

In Chapter 3, ‘Tools of the mind’, after a potted history of maps (not cartography) and clocks (not horology), we get an equally potty view of the plastic mind and neuroscience. Carr is no neuroscientist – three decades ago he took a first degree in English Literature (Dartmouth College) followed by a Masters in American Literature (Harvard). He should stick to what he knows.

Though ‘The Shallows‘ is meant to be unavailable online I started to read a version someone has uploaded before the book arrived in the post. If I had the energy I would cut and paste the digital version into a two column table, landscape view, and write my notes alongside – like a translation. This is what I do with academic papers when they require and deserve close scrutiny. ‘The Shallows’, like any Airport best seller is only worth a once only skim read – I’m questioning my resolve even to do that.

It is like being asked to eat six plates of jelly (jello) and custard.

As a book it is a remarkably satisfactory artifact. Even in paper back the cover has a wonderful fine grittiness to it – like sand. I even open the book and breathed it in. For this experience 10/10. All publishers, especially those online, need to take trouble with the Art Work too. Of course the plaudits sing out ‘buy me, buy me’ but as reviews go they are about as helpful as one liners on the latest blockbuster.

Carr writes well enough, not quite Bill Bryson, but an easy and intelligent read, an amble through the relevant technologies to the present day.

Carr can be accepted as a cultural and social historian, his mistake is to want to want bash this evidence into shape to support his conception of the Internet and its dangers. It is like saying that ‘rural man’ is different to ‘urban man’, that the motivations, pace and opportunities are different. Whilst this may be true, the sorts of changes to the brain that Carr suggest are not occurring.

Carr’s conception of mind is both out of date and misconstrued.

I wonder if I have the strength to read on, not even to refute what he says chapter by chapter. I risk polluting my mind. The pleasure is the history, the cod science is irritating and unnecessary.  Carr is well read and would be a pleasure at a dinner party, but I don’t suppose he’s much of a listener, nor someone whose views are likely to change no matter how convincing the evidence that his hypotheses are mistaken.

My inability to concentrate on this book has nothing to do with what Carr will claim to be by Internet altered mind.

I have some 8 books on the go, 4 eBooks, the others in print form by the bed. It simply fails to engage me, even on the level of making me angry. I suspect that Carr takes an evangelical view on his perspective and couldn’t be changed – I tried telling something reading the Da Vinci Code that it was all made up but they wouldn’t believe me. We human’s have it in us to take things on blind faith. Clearly this is a trait that has brought us in evolutionary terms a long way, but if you want a scientific perspective on the Internet you won’t get it from Carr. If anything, from 2000 when I started buying books in bulk from Amazon and from 20101 when I started consuming e-Books voraciously, the Internet has increased my hunger for books – for their content. My preference is for e-Books for their versatility.

I used always to read with a pen and notebook by my side.

I now do everything on the one device, adding notes, highlighting, bookmarking, sharing snippets to Twitter and Facebook along the way and blogging chapter by chapter too. I stop to check the meaning of a word, or to read a footnote, even to download and read a reference where it helps my understanding. I buy books that are only available in print – Marshall McLuhan, Christopher Alexander, Gordon Bell, Robert Gagne, Engestrom’s Activity Systems (certain specific editions).

At no stage has Carr done either a research degree, or has he studied engineering or computer science or anything that might touch on the workings of the Internet such as e–learning.

He should have studied criminal law as he is good at is constructing a plausible, one–sided argument. Nothing by Carr, from what I can see, has been published in an academic journal – it would not be accepted. Those who have studied the Web, psychology, and neuroscience, would shred him. p.48 on the mind is the exact same shallow and ill–conceived thinking touted by that other writer of bias and conjecture – Marc Prensky (the digital natives debacle is largely his, though currently he’s denying he started that ball rolling).

The structural changes to our brains are infinitesimally minute and extraordinarily complex – a Mozart who has studied and played the piano, or a mathematician such as Einstein, have the same brain just as they have in human terms the same arms and legs. If their personality profiles are to be understood, one could imagine Mozart being the easily distracted, eclectic, butterfly online, while Einstein one imagines would treat it as a tool and an opportunity to stay even closer to the topics that mattered to him. One, in Kirton’s terms an ‘innovator’ the other an ‘adaptor’.

This is where Carr’s lack of understanding of human psychology is so telling.

‘Although the workings of our gray matter still lie beyond the reach of archaeologists’ tools, we now know not only that it is probable that the use of intellectual technologies shaped and reshaped the circuitry in our heads, but that it had to be so’. p.49

This is twaddle on so many levels it feels no more possible or desirable to refute than the enthusiastic chatter of a child. Carr doesn’t strike me as someone who easily persuaded when he has something wrong.

  • everything touches our minds
  • everyone is different
  • not everyone has access to the Internet
  • even those who do use it for a myriad of different things in a multitude of ways.
  • years of solitary confinement, or years in the trenches on the Western Front affect different people in different ways.

The Internet, as a changing and fluid platform of content, now on smartphones on smart TVs since Carr wrote ‘The Shallows’, where it impacts and changes our lives, the effect on each of us varies.

Human kind is not homogenous.

Carr’s thinking is shallow.

I got this kind of thing written on my undergraduate essays, in particular when I’d skipped lectures and based my research on back copies of the Financial Times (this would have been for a module on Southern Africa). ‘Journalistic’ was the put down.

This is journalism to be serialised in a Sunday Colour Supplement – it would be acceptable if the view were balanced. I have in mind a book to complement ‘The Shallows’ – a snappy title might be ‘The Deep’ or ‘The Corrections’ but both of these have been used.

Any suggestions?

An equally plausible stance would be to take everything Carr says and imply that it means the exact opposite – this would be just as imbalanced as ‘The Shallows’ though. The idea that the Internet is making ‘us’ profoundly smarter, that we are being re-wired into a super-race.

My own view is that the Internet is producing a glossary expansion in learning, increasing the depth and scope of education

‘The internet lies at the core of an advanced scholarly information infrastructure to facilitate distributed, data and information-intensive collaborative research’. (Borgman, 2007, xvii)

REFERENCE

Borgman, C.L. (2007) Scholarship in the digital age: Information, infrastructure, and the Internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

 

How do you split your time online? Visual expression of my ‘personal learning environment’ PLE

Fig. 1. The latest expression of how I learn on line. February 2013

This has gone through various forms and ought to included learning across all platforms – I get books from Amazon where the eBook doesn’t exist, I use sheets of A1 paper on a drawing board to sketch out ideas and plans, I use the iPad as a digital camera and use a digital SLR too.

Fig. 2. How it was

The difference? Even more reading and writing.

Fig. 3. Earlier still. A year ago?

A more realistic expression of my learning environment or context i.e. taking on board multiple influences

Fig. 4. A difference expression of the same thing – centred on e-learning

Date stamps on digitized photos are an irrelevance

Fig. 1. Current reading 

Throughout Bell and Gemmel (2009)  say there will be a revolution then on p.172 says ‘we will gradually adapt’. The shape of things is evolving, in different places at different rates.

The Arab Spring was a technology enabled revolution, the uptake of smartphone and tablets is not, it is a well defined diffusion of innovation (Rogers, 2005). The progress of lifelogging, if it can even be tracked as it is an ill-defined hotchpotch of concepts, kit and technology may already have come and gone, already surpassed by a myriad of services and behaviours related to these smartphones snd tablet and hundreds of thousands of Apps.

That a digital camera stamps the date and time – these for recall are the least important factors. What, where and who is far more important. What were you up to, where were you and who were you with?

Digitizing memorabilia is what this so called ‘revolution’ is all about, a kind of recycling with digitization in between. (Bell and Gemmel, 2009 pp. 180)

I have emptied some shelves by chucking printed books and replaces those I read with eBooks.

The next step, courtesy of a Fujitsu ScanSnap will be to start to empty a lockup garage of books and papers – having a dozen unsold have written novels, screenplays and TV series will do my head in just to see them again, but ‘better out than in’ these unpublished and unsold pieces of work, certainly completed manuscripts, may even find a buyer. I’ve done one swoop through the garage with a digital camera just to see what is there – the hard back books will be tricky as ownership of shelves of books is something of a way of life in parts of our family.

I have bought eBooks so as not to be encumbered with some of my favourites and I find as a result I refer to them far more often.

This isn’t total recall or life-bits though, just a fraction, of the tiniest fraction. Enough to make a difference, but hardly innovative. What have law firms, management firms and accountancy firms sent the last 15 years doing? digitizing all their records and all their client’s  records. Big time digital repositories already exist on a massive, professional, industrial and institutional level, with museums and libraries following. And if not already, someone like Barrack Obama perhaps, will have his life celebrated in a library or foundation which could very well contain more in digital form than in print.

Five seconds is all it takes to capture the ambiance of the moment, writes Bell   some four years before Twitter launch their six second video service. (Bell and Gemmel, 2009 p.188)

Like needles in a hay bale, I used to think, a decade ago, naively as it turns out, that the best place to loose important content was in an untagged webpage.

I saw readership figures, but spoke only ever to a tiny number of people – only years later did I figure that of course plenty of the hundreds had read about a friend, or themselves. And out of the blue, 33 years after a the event, a girl I met on a French exchange trip found me and asked if I would delete a scan of a drawing I had done of her – I did so, but know that various archiving packages grabbed this and at the last count some 100 out of 1500+pages which will in all likelihood be somewhere forever.

We know now too that indiscrete idiots who Tweet or something that may be terrorist related, criminal or libelous will be identified, arrested and potentially fined or jailed. Putting content online is publishing, just as it was in the past to get over a dozen barriers to have yourself appear in print.

I have this bizarre image of a lifelog that actually records the where the molecules that are you are and how they will always have filled those places at a particular time throughout your life – tracking these molecules after life is perhaps a duller and less savoury affair.

Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft, founder Intellectual Ventures, believes that only the software creator’s imagination limits what hardware can provide. (Bell and Gemmel, 2009 p. 215)

 

The greatest value of extending our capacity to remember, both externally and internally will be to take a record and build on it, treat it is as living thing that grows into something more.

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on Napster's Second ...

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on Napster’s Second Life? (Photo credit: Berkman Center for Internet & Society)

Fig.1.  Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger

The greatest value of extending our capacity to remember, but externally and internally will be to take a record and build on it, treat it is as living thing that grows into something more.

If human remembering is the weak link, then perhaps memory needs to move from the brain to some external storage and retrieval device. By drawing or writing, we capture an event, an emotion, a thought. Looking at our own drawings or reading our own words aids us in remembering, making it possible for us to recall more, and do so more accurately’. Mayer-Schönberger (2009. p. 28)

Does a weak or false link matter?

If an author looking for material for a teen love story would it matter a jot as the parameters for the story would need to be met by fiction, not fact. Can we so easily make-up stories based on fact, if we are encumbered by the actuality?

Being selective though there are times when an absolute record may be of value – a surgeon operating so that multiple aspects of the experience can be shared, at a distance with colleagues and students.

An artist in their studio, working in a niche material and using rare craft skills not simply preserving their actions, but doing so in a way where many followers get as close as they can be to sitting at his shoulder? And of value to the protagonist, to identify mistakes where improvements could be made.

On the other hand, the act of creating your own version of events, of reflecting afterwards, adds value, adds originality and perspective, like the director’s voice talking through a movie they have made.

The real-time record lacks the context of the person’s thoughts.

These ‘inner-workings’ are surely of greater value to prosperity?

In addition, to personally make the effort to externalise events by taking notes, by creating a drawing or chart, or table … by translating the essence of the experience for others into a form we recognise we etch it into our memory. It benefits from the phsyiological attribution, something that will be lost if the ‘memory’ is gathered automatically.

It matters that we select as we go along, listening to someone talk, but only seeing them or caught by a conversation on another table as we are served, or watching the traffic and thinking of a cycle ride we had a child.

Memory creation is not as literal as a digital snap … and when we hear, as any professional sound recordist will attest, we filter out a huge amount of noise.

Mayer-Schönberger (2011) takes us through a brief history of how we externalise our thinking and touches on painting. ‘Painting is perhaps the oldest form of establishing external memory. It creates an image of a scene or an event, whether real or envisioned, and thus enables remembering’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 29)

If I want a record of events, translated through my mind’s eye, then perhaps a drawing or painting is a better way to do it than to write about it? Then again, a ballad might do the job. Either are preferable to a poor ‘absolute’ digital recording of what took place from the odd-perspective of my chest (or the chest of another) via a cigarette-packet sized gadget hanging around my neck.

A record of what I read and watched might suffice.

Why complicate it by creating a personal digital log of all the above where so much will in future simply require a link – so not some grabs of a text book as I read it, but the eBook, not parts of a film that catch my attention, but the film in its entirety. This supposes a record that is even greater than that experienced, but one which may be of greater value to others so that they can ‘live’ a life alongside, rather than stepping into the shoes of someone else. This may be a more valid and useful way for someone to pick through the digitised memory too – as a video editor or director, at arms length.

Fig.2. John Seely Brown speaking at the Open University in 2007

‘The emphasis, though, is on mixing and recombining, on creating a bricolage as the former head of famed Xerox PARC John Seely Brown has suggested, in which the value is derived from the (re) combination of its parts, not necessarily from the parts themselves’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 61)

Dreams of technology enhanced learning as a micro-chipped jelly-fish in a digital ocean

Fig. 1. I visualised the biological and digitised memory as a huge, translucent jellyfish.

It is a deliberate exercise to fall asleep with a book or eBook in my hands and in my head. This may even be a mid-evening exercise lasting between 20 and 45 minutes. It works if I remember what goes on and then write it down. There’s no way this can be digitally grabbed.

In the skin of the jellyfish there is a microchip. This microchip represents the digital record, the stamp like artefact that is a snap of time, a set of images, a sound-bite, a record of the creatures physiological outputs. The rest of the creature is what isn’t capture – the tendrils of the jellyfish the synapses that connect the bulk of the creature memories that defy definition.

It isn’t a digital memory. The visual or sensory capture is a fraction of what forms the memory.

Not is memory static. It is forming and reforming, diminishing, refreshing and fracturing all the time. To grab a ‘memory’ is to capture and box a set of impossibly complex electro-chemical reactions. It is multi-dimentional too – when I see the Royal Cinema, I feel a sticky ice-lolly stick on my neck, I smell the fusty, cigarette-smoke embedded chairs and here the announcement of the serial. And what I see is filtered through my mind’s eye, not a lense.

I don’t see it in high definition.

There are three kinds of memory: (Bell and Gemmell, 2009. p. 53)

  • Procedural (muscle memory)
  • Semantic (facts that you know that aren’t rooted in time and place)
  • Episodic (autobiographical)

Perhaps if I am going to wear a gadget around my neck it should record something I cannot see or sense?

At a different wavelength or spectrum. i.e. telling me something I don’t know.

‘Biological memory is subjective, patchy, emotion-tinged, ego-filtered, impressionistic, and mutable. Digital memory is objective, disappassionate, prosaic, and unforgivingly accurate’. (Bell and Gemmel, 2009. p. 56)

The first is a memory the second is not. Bell appears to think that ‘memory’ is an artefact that is capable of a digital record – it is not. Nothing that MyLifeBits has done is a record of a memory – it is simply stuff digitised. For something to be called a ‘digital memory’ then it will need to have the attributes of its biological and analogue form.

A memory is a product of our lapses and distractions.

It matters that we daydream, as well as focus. It matters that what we see or experience once needs to be experienced a second, third and fourth time so that meaning aggregates and our minds adapt. What Bell is describing is a massive, relentless, comprehensive attempt at keeping a diary. Would it not be more useful to hire a personal assitance? If you have the wealth to support it have, like Winston Churchill, a secretary at hand to take dictation? This has to be a close proximity to the record of a memory as it is formed?  

With the written word came libraries.

‘If you have ever tried reading an old diary entry of yours from many years ago, you may have felt this strange mixture of familiarity and foreigness, of sensing that you remember some, perhaps most, but never all of the text’s original meaning’. (Mayer-Schönberger, 2009. p. 33)

On Gordon Bell – his goal is nothing short of obliterating forgetting. (Mayer-Schönberger, 2009. p. 50)

I wonder if the quest to make an Artificial Intelligence like the human mind will be a more fruitful one that trying to turn a human mind into a digital one? That adding AI attributes to a database will achieve more, than by thinking of the human as nothing more than a bipedal device from which to record external goings on?

 

The power to remember and the need to forget

Fig 1. Your life? Remembered or forgotten?

Digitally record or better to delete?

INTRODUCTION

It frustrates me to try to read two complementary books e in two different formats – the first is marketed in its traditional hardback edition with a designer cover and eye-grabbing introduction from Bill Gates, while the second, an eBook I find understated – as if it is ashamed to compete. They are a pair. Twins separated at birth. They argue from opposite sides of the digital coin, one in favour of digitizing everything under the sun, the other for circumspection and deletion. Perhaps there should be a face off at the Oxford Union Debating Society. My role here is to bring them together and in doing so provide a one word conclusion: selection.

TOTAL RECALL

‘Total Recall’ (Bell and Gemmel, 2009) with its film-reference title and sensationalist headline ‘how the e-memory revolution will change everything’ risks ostracizing a discerning academic readership in favour of sales reputation and coining a phrase or two. It’s hero Gordon Bell might be the protagonist in the movie. The is is shame is that at the heart of what is more biography than academic presentation there is the desire to be taken seriously – a second edition could fix this – there needs to be a sequel. My copy of Total Recall arrived via trans-Atlantic snail mail in hardback, with it’s zingy dust jacket – it feels like a real book. I’m no bibliophile but I wonder if the pages are uncut and this edition has been pulled from a reject pile. It was discounted Amazon and as I’m after the words contained in the book rather than the physical artifact its state ought not to be a concern. Though the fact that it is a physical book rather pegs it to a bygone era. Total recall refers to the idea of a photographic or ‘eidetic memory’ – this needs to be stated.

Fig. 2. DELETE

‘Delete’ (2009) Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is subtitled ‘The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age’ and sounds as if it was authored by a vampire from Transylvania. It is a foil to ‘Total Recall’ with Viktor the antagonist to ‘Flash Drive’ Gordon. Delete hasn’t been – its in its fourth printing, needless to say I got mine in seconds as a Kindle version. I only ever by a book if I have to. I am too used to the affordances of the eBook to skim, search, highlight and share – and to have it on multiple devices, the Kindle, iPad, laptop and smartphone.

The copyright notice in Total Recall on ‘the scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet’ is ironic because this is what Bell does with his life – he has scanned and uploaded his life (though access is totally private). A double irony as he elects for Web 1.0 but won’t join the Semantic Web 2.0 and share.

I have been an exponent of ‘exposure’ – the release of a substantial part of who you are for others to chew over.

The online diary.

The way forward stands between the two, selective extreme gathering, storing and retrieval of your personal archive, while discretely deleting the irrelevant, possibly illegal (copyright, plagiarised, libel) and otherwise potentially reputationally damaging to kith or kin. (How can these be avoided if you wear a device around your neck that takes a digital snap every few seconds?)

They could be landform and landfill.

 

Granularity

Granularity is best described as creating levels of data, with full control over who can see what. Stodd (2012:45)

Failing to find notes on granularity in his own blog while reading a son to be published book on social learning by a colleague – I stumbleupon this. The best way to learn, in my eBook – serendipty, vicariously, exploratority, but with a mix of familiar and new territory.

Christopher Douce

Clive Young

Morgan O’Connell

Jonathan Turner

Where, courtesy if his link to JISC I find a satisfactory answer:

Features: planning at different levels of granularity – activity, session, module, programme. customisation of terminologies to adapt to local institutional requirements. consideration of teacher time and learner time as significant parameters for learning design. updating of information in all stages after changes made in any one stage. externalising decisions made in designing through visual representations.

REFERENCE

Stodd, J (2012) Exploring the World of Social Learning

 

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