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Better to forget, or better to remember?


In a series of posts I ask what are the possibilities afforded by our technological capacity to digitize a substantial part of our daily lives. This gadget enabled data harvesting may be automatic or manual, continual or spontaneous. We see it in galleries of photos and grabs, video clips, podcasts and text – expressions of our externalization of our thoughts, desires and interests. Included are biometrics. We wear kit to record our vital signs and become a lifelong patient and test subject.

  • Who and what are we?
  • What makes us tick?
  • What can we improve, enhance, support or fix?
  • What do we do with this record?
  • What purpose might it serve?
  • What problems may it solve or cause ?

Two books are at heart of the start of this journey.

I read them first time through side by side, so they might have been interleaved – one as an eBook on Kindle, iBook and laptop, the other in hardback taking pencil written notes, as well as grabs as tags with a smartphone. 8000 words and a dozen or more images make my first thoughts. Already there are a plethora of further books and papers to read relating to computer science and web science, psychology, neuroscience, creativity, innovation and law.

The books are:

Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmel  (2009)  Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (2009) Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age

Jonathan started his first diary when he was 11, then took it up in earnest age 13 ¼. He’s been blogging since September 1999.

  • What is the value of knowing how I felt, who I was with and what I did and what I was thinking on many of these thousands of days?
  • How does it inform my understanding of the human condition?
  • What remains private and what should I expose or share?
  • Who cares?


With the birth of my children I looked at them and have been asking for the last 16+ years ‘what is going on in there?’ yet I still don’t yet understand my own brain. ‘My mind bursts’ is now a decade long inquiry which is shifting from the coffee table to the classroom. Join me here, in your own blog, in forums and webinars.

Jonathan Vernon has an BA from the University of Oxford, and is a graduate of London’s School of Communication Arts. He has just completed an MA in Open and Distance Education with the Open University. His career has been spent in video production, learning and development, linear, interactive, experiential and online learning with experience of the creative industries, competitive sports – teaching and coaching (swimming), retail, manufacturing and the health services. He started the Open University Module H809 : Practice-based research in educational technologyy on 2nd February 2013 with the goal to begin a three to four year doctoral research project in October. He is also taking part in the OLDs MOOC 2013.

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 reality is that our digital world long ago washed over the concept of an e-memory.

Fig. 1. Tablets are the university in the pocket.

Bell and Gemmel (2009) need to imagine the future beyond the lens of life-logging and e-memories. What else will be developing at just as fast a rate. Where will Google and Apple be in our lives?

Fundamentally though, is this view that a recording of what is going on around someone forms any kind of memory at all. Of far greater value is how a personalised capture of an event, assisted by technology, becomes additional support to someone as they learn.

A student who hasn’t prepared for an exam is imagined calling upon all kinds of records to get her straight – would someone who had done so little and left it so late have any desire to go to this effort now?

Much of what Bell describes isn’t a sound e-memory construct either, it is simply searching, grabbing, downloading, adding links and collecting references that may have personal attributes to them.

It simply doesn’t wash that anyone would need say to refer to the way they dealt with a problem in the past when they can just as readily call up the solutions of a myriad of others. Anyone can imagine the perfect use of an imaginary service or product – this doesn’t validate it. Where are the patterns that show this happening in this way.

The reality is that our digital world long ago washed over the concept of a e-memory.

An e-memory or automatic logging is not reflection – the gathering process as Bell and Gemmel (2009)  conceives it requires no control over how information is gathered – the user may actually not even recognise the events that are played back. How could a sports coach possibly get a better view from a camera snapping images every 22 seconds of say a soccer match or squad of swimmers possibly make the choices or get the level of detail he picks up with his own eyes.

Instead of indulgently and obsessively digitising everything in sight like a 21st century transporter, Bell should have been constructing research based on the use of e-learning devices and software and giving them out to thousands of users to conduct trials. He wrongly assumes that his family and the passing on of family heirlooms is clearly like every other.

He hadn’t foreseen the creation of hundreds of thousands of Apps.

Bell and Gemmel (2009. p. 141) assume that this lifelog will preserve an image of a loved one we would want to keep. But when would we ever see them? They the camera. And where would be get, and should we have access to the lifelogs of others who will have caught out loved one in shot?

“Skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.”

Fig.1. Steve Jobs in Isaacson (2011).

‘If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away’.

Apple haven’t created a Steve Jacobs APP to bring him back to life virtually, rather they have created a University within Apple to teach the Apple Way as a management and leadership programme akin to an MBA and run by the former Dean of Yale Business School. Joel Podolny

Jobs quoted the hockey star Wayne Gretzky’s maxim, “Skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.” Isaacson (2011). 

“Steve prefers to be in the moment, talking things through. He once told me, ‘If you need slides, it shows you don’t know what you’re talking about.’” Jobs said.  Isaacson Isaacson (2011. p. 387).

Bell and Gemmel get it wrong on lectures. (2009. p 117-118) They make assumptions about the value or otherwise of watching a live lecture in favour of a recorded one.

Whilst this might replace sitting in a class it doesn’t mean that by replaying the video repeatedly the student will be any the wiser or even recall what has been viewed.

Viewing video is a passive exercise, ‘sit back’ rather than ‘sit forward’, Far better that the video is offered as an e-learning module, broken into a dozen pieces, each one different, each one challenging the student in different ways, obliging them to think, to construct, to research, to discuss with others, to answer questions.

I’d like to read this research, understand the way it was undertaken, and how the conclusions were drawn. I’d like to know what other research has been done in this area to get the fullest picture.

On p119 we are given the story of a 7th grade field trip in which students identify leaves of different plants in a forest and we then are asked to imaging 40 years later this 50 year old needing to call upon a digital recording of that event in order to show it to his child. His child, far preferring the psychologically better and warm lesson from her father would feel rejected if made to watch the video.

What is more, the learning, through communication isn’t purely as a result of looking at an object and hearing or being told what it is – the lesson is largely recalled for the emotional impact of delivery from the teacher – how they speech and their body language – were the enthusiastic or bored by the information they had to impart?

My biggest concern about the assumptions of Bell’s lifelogging is that if I take a self-drive car from A to B, a 45 minute journey, will I ever, if called upon be able to drive this route myself

  •  if I have never driven myself
  •  if I’ve never made the choices that would take me this way?

A lifelogging device is akin to driving on autopilot, there is no need to concentrate and without that there is no memory creation – so yes, you would need a recall device. And if you are behaving as if you are not there, why be there? Indeed, to fake it college students might hand their lifelogging devices to one student who would then attend the lecture on everyone else’s behalf.

REFERENCE

Bell, G., and Gemmel. J (2009)  Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything

Isaacson, Walter (2011). Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography (Kindle Locations 3421-3422). Hachette Littlehampton. Kindle Edition.

Mayer-Schönberger, V (2009) Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age

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 a ‘world brain’ that acts as a perfect memory prosthesis to humans is not new.

Fig. 1 H G Wells 

In the late 1930s, British science fiction writer H. G. Wells wrote about a “world brain” through which “the whole human memory can be [ .  .  .  ] made accessible to every individual.” Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 51)

I think to keep a lifelog is to invite sharing. It’s so Web 2.0.

It may be extreme, but some will do it, just as people keep a blog, or post of a picture taken every day for a year or more. The value and fears of such ‘exposure’ on the web have been discussed since the outset. There are new ways of doing things, new degrees of intimacy.

‘Obliterating the traditional distinction between information seekers and information providers, between readers and authors, has been a much-discussed quality since the early days of the Internet’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 83)

‘By using digital memory, our thoughts, emotions, and experiences may not be lost once we pass away but remain to be used by posterity. Through them we live on, and escape being forgotten’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 91)

At a faculty level I have twice created blogs for the recently deceased.

Fig. Jack Wilson MM 1938

It was with greater sadness that I did so with my own parents with my father in 2001 and my mother in 2012. While, by recording interviews with my late grandfather I moved close to the conception of a digital expression of a person. It doesn’t take much to imagine a life substantially ‘lifelogged’ and made available in various forms – a great tutor who continues to teach, a move loved grandparent or partner to whom you may still turn …

Source: wikihow.com via Peter on Pinterest

 

Fig. 3. Bell and Gemmel  imagines lifelogs of thousands of patients used to in epidemiological survey. (Bell and Gemmell, 2009. p. 111)

This has legs. It ties in with a need. It related to technologies being used to managed patients with chronic illnesses. It ties in to the training of clinicians too.

 

 

Is lifelogging a solution on the lookout for a problem?

Fig. 1. A hundred cards in a hundred days. Away from my fiancee I gave up the diary and posted her one of these every day.

I’m from a generation where we have a record in letters. Does a digital record simply enable more ofthe same kind of thing?

It is true that the worth grows as they years pass, that to know what you were doing a year, three years, ten years or two decades ago at least puts a rye smile on your face.

‘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 foreignness, of sensing that you remember some, perhaps most, but never all of the text’s original meaning’. Mayer-Schönberger (2011. p. 34).

Which is why Bell’s approach my diminish the mind, not enhance it.

The mind reworks a memory every time it is relived – it isn’t the same memory when it reforms on a shelf in your mind. Whereas Bell’s ‘memory’ sits their unchanging. Crucially it lacks the mental context, connections and connotations of the person. Indeed, it isn’t a memory at all, it is simply a digital record snapped by a device. Afterall, it is a false input – lacking the filter of the person’s eyes and senses. The laziness of such a lifelog has serious flaws. Just because it can be done, does not mean that it should be. If it is to be done, then it should be research led, or as part of a problem solving, outcome driven project. Supporting those with dementia or cognitive disabilities, aiding those recovering from a stroke …

Is lifelogging a solution on the lookout for a problem?

Forgetfulness Bell and Gemmell, 2009. p. 52) doesn’t sound like a worthy cause, better to learn to remember, better to enjoy and use those around you – family and friends. Alzheimer’s disease is a cause. Parkinson’s too. Possibly those with cognitive problems. Could lifelogging be an assistive technology for those prone to forget? Does the lifelog to such a person become the calculator to anyone struggling with more the simple arithmetic? A prosthesis to their mind?

What might we learn from diaries and blogs?

Who has benefitted from these? What therefore might we gain from a lifelog? It matters who is the lifelogger. However, the lifelog by the very nature of keeping one, impacts on the life. You don’t want to keep a diary and do nothing. It invites you to be adventurous. On the other hand, it may invite you to live within the laws of the land, and moral laws.

Would Pepys have kept a lifelog?

 

 

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)

The memory is the mind process happening in your brain, it can never be the artefact that plays back footage of an experience.


Fig. 1. Bill Gates featured in a 1985 copy of a regional computer magazine

In the introduction to ‘Total Recall’ Bill Gates wonders when he and Gordon Bell first met.

Was in 1983 or 1982. What was the context? Can they pinpoint the moment with certainty? I ask, does it matter? I ask, who cares? What matters is that they met. A moot point if either one of them claims that at this time one took an idea from the other … and they want to claim bragging rights for a new word or financial rights to a product.

The players in this game of life-blogging or developing the digitally automated photographic memory (total recall) are communicating, sharing ideas, creating or stating an identity, forming allegiances and developing ideas or hedging.

Our memory is  selective

Having some sense of what we put in and what we leave out, then having a way to manage what we retrieve how we use this and then add to the record.

As someone who kept a diary and put a portion of it online it surprises me and now worries me when a person I know says that x, or y found out something about them courtesy of this blog (posted 1999-2004).

 

Fig. 2. A grab from my Year 2001 Diaryland Blog. An evening out with the web hopefuls of Wired Sussex, Brighton.

I thought I’d locked the diary long ago – but of course various digital spiders have always been crawling the Internet snapping pages.

I think there are around 100 pages of some 1500 that I can never get back. It took me a few years to realise that I ought to change names and locations, but this became convoluted.


Fig. 3. Apple have started in an in-house business school, the Apple University, to teach people to be like Steve Jobs.

How might a digital record of a person have assisted with this? And what would be the warnings over diet and over behaviours?

The value of this content would be if I had a life worthy of a biography, but I am no Steve Jobs.

The value might still be for writing, though could have been even then a portfolio for specific subjects of study, such as geography, history, art, filming and writing. In these respects it still is.

Then it becomes an aid to the construction of ideas and the development of knowledge.

Personally, if I wanted to build on my knowledge of meteorology I would start with my Sixth Form classes with Mr Rhodes. I may have some of the newspaper cuttings I kept then of weather systems and may even being able to put some of these to photographs. I have a record of the 1987 Hurricane over Southern England for example.

I might tap into a Physics text book I first opened when I was 14 and recuperating at home from a broken leg.

There are those we know who have stored digitally the product of their illegal behaviour – paedophiles who are hoisted by their own petard when their digital record is recovered or identified. There may always be images that you may never want stored for later retrieval – a scene in a horror film that captures your attention before you flick channels, worse a real car accident … even making the mistake of clicking on footage of the hanging of Saddam Hussian. The image will be even less likely to be wiped from your memory if you have it stored somewhere.

Google, Facebook and other sites and services are not the only ones to capture a digital record of our behaviours – as I know if I write about and publish the activities of others.

Fig. 4. ‘Total capture’, as we ought to call it,  could be the digital equivalent of hoarding

Sensors on and in you will know not only about your body, but your environment: the location, temperature, humidity, sound levels, proximity to wireless devices, amount of light, and air quality. (Bell and Gemmel, 2009 p.217)

Just because we can, does not mean that we should. Bell has a record of such minutiae as when he blew his nose – he has too given the detail of what he captures. I know of someone with an obsessive disorder who keeps the paper tissues he uses to blow his nose.

For what purpose?

A data grab of Ridley Scott or some other director as they plan, develop and create a movie might be a fascinating and rich journey that would serve an apprentice well. A detailed recovery from an illness or accident too. There are problems for which a comprehensive digital capture could be a helpful, valid and possible response. How about wearable underpants that monitor your activity and heat up if you need to exercise – eHot Pants ?! Better still, a junior doctor who has to cram a great deal may extract parts of lessons. However, who or what will have structured these into bite–sized pieces for consumption? Is there a programme that could be written to understand what to grab then offer back? But who would pose the testing question? Or can AI do this? From a set of question types know how to compose one using natural language and create a workable e-tivity such as those produced by Qstream (were SpacedEd).


Fig.5. Watching students of the SCA at work I wonder how life-logging would assist or get in the way.

Reflection in working is a way to think through what they are learning – a grabbed record of kit on their person cannot construct this for them. Without a significant edit it would be cumbersome to review. In a digital format though it could be edited and offered back to aid review. Would the return of the bad or weak idea be disruptive or distracting? It could infect the unconscious. Would there not need to be a guide on how to use this log in the context given the outcomes desired? They can’t be up all night doing it.


Fig. 6 Age 17, for one month, I became a hoarder of a kind, of the pre-digital keep a record of everything kind.

A diarist already, starting a new school, back at home from boarding school and a new life opening up – so I kept bus and theatre tickets, sweet wrappers too. And when I sat down in the late evening to write the day I did so onto sheets of paper I could file. With no parameters I soon found myself writing for two hours. September 1978 is a book. Would a few lines a day, every day, in the tiny patch of a space in an off the shelf Five Year diary do? It would have to.

An exchange trip got the file treatment.

And a gap year job of five months was a photo-journal – one file. And then the diary resorted to one page of A4 in a hardback book. This self selection matters. It makes possible the creation of an artificial record or ‘memory’. The way content is gathered and stored is part of the context and the narrative, and by working within reasonable parameters it leaves the content, in 1980-1990 terms, manageable.

I have letters from parents, grandparents and boyhood ‘girlfriends’ from the age of 8 to 18 … and a few beyond.

Perhaps science and maths should have been the root to take? If there is value in reflection it is how I might support my children as they have to make subject choices, choices over universities and their careers beyond. Seeing this I am more likely show empathy to any young person’s plight.


Fig. 7. A boy’s letter home from Mowden Hall School. Presumably Sunday 14th July 1974 as we wrote letters home after morning Chapel. I can see it now, in Mr Sullivan’s Room, French. Mr Farrow possibly on duty. His nose and figures yellow from the piper he smoked … looks like I would have been younger. He never did turn up on Saturday … or any school fixture. Ever. See? The pain returns. 

I have letters I wrote too. I feel comfortable about the letters I wrote going online, but understandably shouldn’t ‘publish’ the long lost words of others. I might like to use the affordances of a blog or e-portfolio, but in doing so I would, like Gordon Bell, keep the lock tightly fixed on ‘Private’. Is it immoral to digitise private letters, even those written to you. How will or would people respond to you if they suspected you would scan or photograph everything, load it somewhere and by doing so risk exposing it to the world or having it hacked into.

People do things they regret when relationships fall apart – publishing online all the letters or emails or texts or photos they ever sent you?

Putting online anything and everything you have that you did together? Laws would very quickly put a dent in the act of trying to keep a digital record. In the changing rooms of a public swimming pool? In the urinals of a gents toilets? It isn’t hard to think of other examples of where it is inappropriate to record what is going on. I hit record when my wife was giving birth – when she found out she was upset. I’ve listened once and can understand why the trauma of that moment should be forgotten as the picture of our baby daughter 30 minutes later is the one to ‘peg’ to those days.

Selection will be the interface between events

What is grabbed, how is it tagged, recalled and used? Selection puts the protagonist in a life story back in control, rather than ‘tagging’ a person and automatically and comprehensively recording everything willy-nilly.

We don’t simply externalise an idea to store it, we externalise ideas so that they can be shared and potentially changed. Growing up we learn a variety of skills, such as writing, drawing or making charts not simply to create an analogue record, but as a life skill enabling communications with others. Modern digital skills come into this too.

Just because there is a digital record of much that I have done, does not mean I don’t forget.

If many others have or create such a digital record why should it prevent them from acting in the present? A person’s behaviour is a product of their past whether or not they have a record of it. And a record of your past may either influence you to do more of the same, or to do something different. It depends on who you are.

The memory is the mind process happening in your brain, it can never be the artefact that plays back footage of an experience.

REFERENCES

Bell, G., and Gemmel. J (2009)  Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything

Blackmore, Y (2012) Virtual Health Coach. (accessed 28 Jan 2013 http://mobihealthnews.com/16177/study-virtual-coach-improves-activity-levels-for-overweight-obese/

Isaacson, Walter (2011). Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography (Kindle Locations 3421-3422). Hachette Littlehampton. Kindle Edition.

Ituma, A (2011), ‘An Evaluation of Students’ Perceptions and Engagement with E-Learning Components in a Campus Based University’,Active Learning In Higher Education, 12, 1, pp. 57-68, ERIC, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 December 2012.

Kandel, E. (2006) The Emergence of a New Science of Mind.

Kennedy G., Dalgarno B., Bennett S., Gray K., Waycott J., Judd T., Bishop A., Maton K., Krause K. & Chang R. (2009) Educating the Net Generation – A Handbook of Findings for Practice and Policy. Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Available at: http://www.altc.edu.au/ system/files/resources/CG6-25_Melbourne_Kennedy_ Handbook_July09.pdf (last accessed 19 October 2009).

Mayer-Schönberger, V (2009) Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age

Myhrvold, N Princeton Alumni (accessed 29 Jan 2013 http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/04/1122/ )

Schmandt-Besserat (1992) How Writing Came About.

Vernon, J.F. (2011) Life according to Anais Nin, Henry Miller and Samuel Pepys
(accessed 28 Jan 2013 http://mymindbursts.com/2011/08/13/1162/ )

W. Boyd Rayward Wells, H,G. World Brain.
http://people.lis.illinois.edu/~wrayward/HGWellsideaofWB_JASIS.pdf

Waybackmachine
http://archive.org/web/web.php

Wixted and Carpenter, (2006) “The Wickelgren Power Law and the Ebbinghaus Savings Function,” 133– 34.

 

 

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.

 

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