241 Things

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241 Things

The tape-recorder, photograph and hard-drive are typical metaphors used to describe our memory. Devices of direct repetition; a flawless copy of a saved memory. What characterizes our contemporary age is this external storage. Not only of personal memories, but more importantly of information. The World Wide Web has become our primary source of information, our modern library. Information has become so accessible, that we now add more value to remembering how to locate it, rather than actually taking the time to possess knowledge of it.

The vital difference between the human brain and the artificial ‘brains’ mentioned before is it’s reliability. Our own memory is unfortunately (?) not flawless, most often we only remember bits and pieces, and we’re left to reconstruct the rest of the information. Our minds tend to get a general idea of a situation and not necessarily pay attention to details, subconsciously filling these gaps with what we would expect that detail to be. A hard-drive on the other hand, can reproduce the exact same information as when it was received.

Although this mechanical accuracy is so appealing, our own memories may actually not be so unfortunate - for the exact reproduction of items is also the machine's downfall. All information absorbed by a hard-drive acquires the same value. In other words, it enters. That is all. It sits there waiting to be retrieved, exactly as it was before. What makes our natural memories so strong is the hierarchy we appoint to it. A certain quality is given to each (natural) memory depending on what happens after it has entered the mind. The human mind still processes information long after we receive it, making connections to prior knowledge. We are constantly re-evaluating for ourselves and are capable of putting thoughts and ideas into perspective with other related information. In a way, we rate the information we receive, we are able to decide what kind of information sticks by deciding which to focus on more.

Some might say ‘we must leave room in our minds’ to think, - and consciously leave the task of remembering to external devices - however, this statement would suggest that there is a capacity to our long-term memory. On the contrary, we do not need to make space to be able to further our thinking processes. We are able to take in an endless amount of information and thus construct our personal network of memories. A strong basis of knowledge enables us to contemplate, review and be critical - which eventually results in a strengthened mind.

The World Wide Web contains an immense amount of connections. The fact that eg. Wikipedia (hyper)links to just about every concept known to man, does not mean that the machine itself can make ground-breaking discoveries because of all the ‘knowledge’ it contains. These connections are man-made and not understood by the computer itself. This lack of understanding prevents the machine of being able to make conclusions for itself. Computers are merely capable of accomplishing tasks with human direction, seeing as eg. webpages are designed to be read by people, not machines.

When we use the internet as a substitute for our memory, we lose the strong basis we require to accumulate more knowledge and sacrifice the wealth of connections in our mind. Because however much we want, we will never be able to call the innumerous amount of connections on the web our own. We seem to be “conceited in the idea of wisdom”, as we don’t possess the basal content to work with, denying ourselves the ability to reflect and contemplate. The internet remains a tool of reminder, and therefore information cannot make the translation to knowledge. We would expect from the information/knowledge age that we are knowing more, but we are actually knowing less.

Excerpt of “A Research on (Spatial) Memory from a ‘Graphic Design’ Perspective” including parts on spatial synesthesia, the importance of spatial orientation & cartography, underlying relations and structures, graphic design as a vessel for memorization, etc.

Carr, N. The Shallows. New York, 2010

Clapman, M. History of Technology vol 3. from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, c. 1500 - c.1750. London, 1957

Foer, J. Moonwalking with Einstein. New York, 2011

Lievers, M.Mens Machine. New York, 2008

Sagan, C. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: Pt. 11 The Persistence of Memory, 1980