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I cannot through words share with my mother our collective memories, I cannot do a ‘mind transfusion’.
My mother had a stroke.
She would die within three months and after a second stroke very poor comprehension and ability to communicate will get very much worse. I cannot become an expert in care for a stroke victim overnight, but I read enough and ask questions. We find two ways ‘in’ – song and images. The images are never of people – various sparks of joyous recognition come when we are seen in the flesh and behave like children rather than adults in our 40s and 50s. I cannot through words share with my mother our collective memories, I cannot do a ‘mind transfusion’. I cannot even talk about things we did a year or ten years ago – I sense the time is irrelevant, she is as likely to recall her first doll as she is our last visit to the Royal Academy of Arts to enjoy Van Gogh’s Letters. A visit where she gently nurtured the interest of her 13 year old granddaughter, sharing insights between the letters, sketches and paintings from the point of view of an artist and art teacher and art historian, to a bright girl who liked to draw.
A mouthful of the food from the Fortnum and Mason’s restaurant might have triggered her memory – we did treat her to various foods.
What worked, in defiance of the medical reports that essentially said ‘there is nothing there’ was an iPad loaded with images grabbed from a number of hefty art books – 20th century art, the Van Gogh exhibition book and pictures from the Louvre. I spoke to that part of her that I might work. I challenged her as I showed the pictures to say when the letter had been written or why was Van Gogh so keen to tell his brother what he was up to. And what was the name of Van Gogh’ s brother? I got through Van Gogh and contemporary artists then moved onto the Louvre.
Up comes the Mona Lisa.
‘Where is this painting? We’ve seen it. It was so small?’
And she replied, ‘Louvre’.
‘Where’s that?’ I asked.
‘Paris’ she said.
Perhaps had my mother been in her sixties we and she could have seen a way to perceive with this.
Would a lifelog have got to this point in under 15 minutes? Might a screen of fast moving images offered in spaced-out way, with eye-tracking identify that ‘glimmer’ of recognition that would then prioritise images in the same set? Though who would know why a set was being favoured? We associate images with feelings, and people, and places, not with a set book or date or necessarily a genre of work.
Fig. 2. I think in pictures. But have to communicate in words. I wonder if a stream of pictures, as Tumblrs do, is a better record of our thoughts?
I think Bell has shown how we can freeze content from the digital ocean without knowing what value it will bring.
Perhaps from such an iceberg or glacier, at a later date, we can mine such event sparking artifacts that call up a memory as indicated above. But this artifact is not the memory and never can be. We should applaud Bell and others for going beyond thinking about such massive data collections, the ‘world brain og H G Wells or the Memex of Vannevar Bush.
- ‘We are not made of wood’: Van Gogh’s apocalyptic letter up for sale (rt.com)
- What Van Gogh’s Famous Self-Portrait Looks Like as a Photograph – Megan Garber – The Atlantic (theatlantic.com)
- Automatically Augmenting Lifelog Events Using Pervasively Generated Content from Millions of People (mymindbursts.com)
- Digital content, like its liquid equivalent in a digital ocean, has an extraordinary ability to leak out. (mymindbursts.com)
Fig.1. Inspiration courtesy of a pad of cartridge paper, the Royal Academy of Arts, designers in residence at the Design Museum, Mirrielees on Story Writing and Robert Gagne‘s ‘The Conditions of Learning’. There’s a guitar by the desk and a set of 6B pencils and a putty rubber out of vision.
For moments when the Muse calls … and when she doesn’t.
The cartridge paper and guitar would be on my Desert Island.
I’m in London today (Tuesday 16th October) and happy to meet up PM should you be available.
I’m starting at the Bronzes Exhibtion at the Royal Academy, Picadilly, then heading for Euston and the Wellcome Foundation Museum. Afterwards to the National Portrait Gallery and ICA and possibly the Imperial War Museum and ending at the Southbank Centre.