Thursday, February 02, 2012

...more tangible, more linear and more contextual

In her NY Times piece, The Dilemma of Being a Cyborg, Carina Chocano defines a dilemma of depending on memory extension devices such as smart phones: "It’s that we’re collectively engaged in a mass conversion of what we used to call, variously, records, accounts, entries, archives, registers, collections, keepsakes, catalogs, testimonies and memories into, simply, data. 'Data' has become the default word used to describe the constantly generated, centrally stored evidence of our existence. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the word “data” comes from the Latin for 'to give,' and refers to something that is given or relinquished. It also feels significant that data rests at the very bottom of the so-called knowledge hierarchy — below information, knowledge and wisdom."

Her tone is one of regret. She expertly details that as we move our digitally captured memories and experiences to silicon extensions of ourselves, we lose what biological memory is good at providing--an emotional context that was a tangible part of our space/time existence. "Data is weightless and characterless and takes up very little space. The more of it we save, the more we lose the ability to differentiate it, to assign significance and meaning."

At the end of the article she discusses the small revival of the use of physical media such as vinyl records or cassette tapes. "It strikes me that the current fetishization of analog technology has less to do with nostalgia than it does with an urge to slow down the transfer of data from the internal to the external, from the individual to the collective, and to make it all less instant, less ephemeral, less interchangeable, and more tangible, more linear and more contextual."

Given that we are all cyborgs now, what can we do to recover the richness of ourselves that is more tangible, more linear and more contextual? It is not as if we will abandon those devices any time soon. Could it be that we can find a way to use them in a more tangible, linear, and contextual fashion? Is this where the Facebook timeline can help a person as they look at their own and other friend's profiles? Perhaps looking at the timeline with a significant other as they remissness over those actual events?

While I agree with Chocano that reducing our contextually created memories to bits and bytes is not the same as "remembering," can we use binary data to create meaningful memories? I hope so.

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