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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)

Why lifelogging as total capture has less value that selective capture and recall.

Beyond Total Capture. Sellen and Whittaker (2010)

Abigail Sellen and Steve Whittaker

Abigail J. Sellen (asellen@microsoft.com) is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, U.K., and Special Professor of Interaction at the University of Nottingham, U.K.

Steve Whittaker (whittaker@almaden.ibm.com) is a research scientist at IBM Almaden Research Center, San Jose, CA.

may 2010 | vol. 53 | no. 5 | communications of the acm 77

You read about people looking at ways to capture everything – to automatically lifelog the lot. They constantly look for new ways to gather and store this data. What’s the point? Because they can? Who are they? Is it a life worth remembering? And do we need it all?!

Far better to understand who and what we are and use the technology either to ameliorate our shortcomings, aid those with memory related challenges and tailored to specific needs captured moments of worth.

There’s ample literature on the subject. I’m not overly excited about revolutionary change. It is as valuable, possibly more so, to forget, rather than to remember – and when you do remember to have those memories coloured by perspective and context.

My interest is in supporting people with dementia and cognitive difficulties – perhaps those recovering from a stroke for whom a guided path of stimulation into their past could help ‘awaken’ damaged memories. If lives are to be stored, then perhaps grab moments as a surgeon operates for training purposes, recreate a 3:1 tutorial system with AI managed avatars so that such learning practices can be offered to hundreds of thousands rather than just the privilege, elite or lucky few. Use the device on cars, not people, to monitor and manage poor driving – indeed wear one of these devices and see your insurance premiums plummet.

What does it mean to support human memory, rather than capturing everything.

Five Rs

  1. Recollect
  2. Reminisce
  3. Retrieve
  4. Reflect
  5. Remember

Despite the device SenseCam stimulate memories are as quickly forgotten as any other.
Whittacker 2010 – Family archives of photos are rarely accessed

Of less value than the considerable effort to produce these archives justifies.

  • Can’t capture everything
  • Need to prioritise – selectivity (as SwimTag and swim data)
  • Visual
  • Memory taxonomies
  • Quick and easy to use better than accuracy – good enough
  • Cues not capture – the data cues memories that are different to the image captured.
  • Memory is complex

Play to the strengths of human memory, help overcome weaknesses.

Incorporating the psychology of memory into the design of novel mnemonic devices opens up exciting possibilities of ways to augment and support human endeavours.

REFERENCE

Sellen, A. J., & Whittaker, S. (2010). Beyond total capture: a constructive critique of lifelogging. Communications of the ACM, 53(5), 70-77.

Whittaker, S., Bergman, O., and Clough, P. Easy on that trigger dad: A study of long-term family photo retrieval. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 14, 1 (Jan. 2010), 31–43.

 

The best form of ‘cognitive housekeeping’ is to sleep on it.

So I blogged three months ago when considering the merits and demerits of keeping a learning journal and reflective writing.

It transpires that sleep really does sort the ‘memory wheat from the chaff’ according to a report in the Journal of Neuroscience, DOI, 10,1,1523.jneuorsci.3575-10.2011) referred to in the current New Scientist. This Week. 5 FEB 2011.

‘It turns out that during sleep the brain specifically preserves nuggets of thought it previously tagged as important.’ Ferris Jabr says.

I have always used sleep to reflect on ideas.

If I expect or wish to actively dwell on something I will go to sleep with the final thought on my mind, a pen and pad of paper by my side. Cat naps are good for this too. I will position myself with pillows and a book, or article and drift off as I finish. Waking up ten or twenty minutes later I glance straight back at the page and will feel a greater connection with it.

I wonder if there is commercial value in working from home and doing so up ’til the point you need to fall asleep? It’s how my wife works when she is compiling a hefty report. It’s how I work when I have an assignment, or a script to deliver … or a production to complete. The work never stops and it doesn’t stop me sleeping.

Going back to tagging.

How does the mind do this? In curious ways. We all know how a memory can be tagged with a smell or a sound. For me how mothballs remind me of my Granny’s cupboard (an image of it immediately in my mind). A Kenwood blender will always remind me of my mother ginger biscuits to put on the base of a cheesecake. And a sherbert dip the Caravan Shop, Beadnell, Northumberland. Often when a random recollection enters my consciousness I try to think what has triggered it: the way the light falls on a tree, the exhaust from a car or even a slight discomfort in my stomach. It is random. Indeed, is a random thought not impossible?

There has to be a trigger, surely?

Can any of these be used?

Perhaps I could categorise content here, or in an eportfolio by taste. So chocolate digestive biscuits might be used to recall anecdotes. Toothpaste might be used to recall statistics. Varieties of Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts might be associated with people I have got to know (a bit) during the MAODE.

The mind boggles; or at least mine does.

Colour and images (Still or moving) is as much as we can do so far.

I’m intrigued by memory games. I like the journey around a familiar setting where you place objects you need to remember in familiar places so that you can recall a list of things. Here the tag is somewhere familiar juxtaposed with the fresh information.

Are there better ways to tag?

Look at my ridiculously long list of tags here. Am I being obtuse? When I think of a tag do I come up with a word I’ve not yet used? How conducive is that to recalling this entry, or grouping similar entries to do the job?

I like the way some blogs (WordPress/EduBlogs) prompt you to use a tag you’ve applied before; it offers some order to it all. I long ago lost track of the 17000 entries in my blog. Would I want to categorise them all anyhow? I think I managed 37. I prefer the ‘enter@random’ button I installed.

Going back to this idea of tagging by taste/smell, might a word (the category) be given division by taste/smell, texture and colour? How though would such categories work in a digital form? Am all I doing here recreating a person’s shed, stuff shoved under their bed or stacked in a garage, or put in a trunk or tuck box in the attic?

In the test reported in the Neuroscientist those who went to bed in the knowledge that they would be tested on the information they had looked at that day had a 12% better recall.

See.

Testing works.

It doesn’t happen in MAODE, if at all. When are we put on the spot? When are we expected ever to playback a definition under ‘duress’?

‘There is an active memory process during sleep that selects certain memories and puts them in long-term storage.’

Like an e-portfolio?

Is the amount of sleep I’ve had, the 350 or so nights since I started the MAODE … part of the learning environment required?

REFERENCE

Sleep Selectively Enhances Memory Expected to Be of Future Relevance
Wilhelm et al. J. Neurosci..2011; 31: 1563-1569

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