Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Elizabeth Landau posted an article on CNN that asks a thought-provoking question:
"If we rely on technology for documenting, sorting and storing information -- creating digital diaries, or "lifestreaming" -- what will become of our minds? Although there is not a lot of research on this subject, psychologists have a range of opinions about where we're headed."
Some folks propose that releasing our mental processors from mundane tasks like remembering phone numbers, addresses, and other similar low-value data frees us to concentrate on more useful things.

Others respond that as we use digital tools to continually document our own lives, gathering massive quantities of data -- images, calendar items, Facebook posts, blogs -- like an ever-expanding closet for accumulated souvenirs, we risk losing our skills at remembering our lives as they are experienced.

This reminds me of John Stilgoe's insight in Outside Lies Magic about how nineteenth century aesthetes developed richer and more vibrant ways of seeing color because they focused their attention to subtle distinctions in hue and saturation more than we do today. This was not just about looking; it was a demand for training, effort, and focus. According to Stilgoe, few of us practice that precision in cultivating our sensibilities. Instead, we gather and maybe sort, but do not engage our lives so directly. Perhaps our world is more bland than it once was because of an emergent inability to process what we see.

Paralleling this concern, one researcher quoted in the article states, "Constant documenting may make people less thoughtful about and engaged in what they're doing because they are focused on the recording process."

Landau's piece also proposes that our choices to live our lives in a constant state of expectation that our actions should be blog-able or Tweet-able may alter what we value. Shall we strive for long-term or short-term experience? Put another way: What is worth remembering if we can remember everything (or if others can remember it for us wholesale)?

Read the entire article: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/11/03/digital.diary.brain.mind/index.html

Also: Here's a recent post that explores this topic in a related way: Real-Time Web

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