A file structure for the complex…

I guess the first question I have is —

How much of the Internet today is like what Nelson describes?

Is it fair to compare the two, considering that Nelson really sees today’s WWW as being very different from what he envisioned/envisions today?

In his piece, Nelson says several times that what he imagines would be very simple.  He has also said recently that today’s Internet is too complicated.  Do we agree that what he lays out in his piece is simple?  What about our system today, is it too complicated?

A colleague mentioned to me that she was in a workshop recently regarding modules and someone asked about embedded videos and pics.  The workshop leader said they were moving away from embedding vids and pics and just using links so that the pages would display in mobile platforms.  What are the new affordances in today’s tech?  Are there limitations (like leaving out images and vids in order to have mobile access)?  I guess I am constantly trying to grapple with my own relationship to technology.  I don’t see myself using mobile and find it a somewhat difficult medium to navigate (i.e., I would rather be at home, with my keyboard and mouse, taking my time to peruse many web sites, click on their links, view all of their images, appreciate their layouts, take time to compose texts, etc.).  But what about younger users?  Will mobile tech be second-nature to them?  Would a large screen be overwhelming for them?  Would they have a hard time taking in a larger display and broader range of information?  Or can they already do that now, just on a micro scale?

Let me suggest that such an object and system, properly designed and administered, could have great potential for education, increasing the student’s range of choices, his sense of freedom, his motivation, and his intellectual grasp. (144)

I always find it interested when people emphasize or advocate a notion of “freedom” on the Internet or with hypertext, hyperlinking, etc.  This sense of freedom is always illusory, in our own lives and most certainly on the Interwebs.  And Nelson certainly does include the word “sense,” foregrounding the fact that the freedom is an illusion, but I just always find it interesting to come back to.

I also like his statement near the end,

It is useful where relationships are unclear; where contingencies and tasks are undefined and unpredictable; where the structures or final outcome it must represent are not yet fully known; where we do not know the file’s ultimate arrangement; where we do not know what parts of the file are most important; or where things are in permanent and unpredictable flux.  Perhaps this includes more places than we think.  And perhaps here, as in biology, the only ultimate structure is change itself. (144)

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Human Algorithms

I was reading an article today about the new Facebook timeline.  At the end of the article, the author says,

It’s a marvel of computer programming: An algorithm that comes eerily close to emulating human memory…

This resonated with the Wiener “Men, Machines, and the World About” reading for today.

Quotes that I thought were particularly memorable:

The new industrial revolution which is taking place now consists primarily in replacing human judgment and discrimination at low levels by discrimination of the machine.  The machine appears now, not as a source of power, but as a source of control and a source of communication. (71)

Social reforms do not get made in a war. (71)

We must value leisure.  We must turn to great leaders of business, of industry, of politics, in a state of mind in which they will consider the leisure of people as their business and not as something to be passed off as none of their business. (72).

Gentlemen, the moral problem of the machine differs in no way from the old moral problem of magic. (72)

I’ve always been interested in the relationship between wo/man and machine (there’s a loaded idea!), between the self and machine, and between control/power and communication/discourse.

If we think about the machine as a source of control and a source of communication, then the next question that comes to mind is, who is the one operating or building the machine?  Who is the one who thinks he or she is operating the machine?

If the machine is Us/Using Us, then whatever social structures we have programmed into the machine are also Us/Using Us, and they are serving those underlying agendas.

What this comes down to, for me, ends up being rhetoric and language.  Because ultimately, we are using language to program the machine; thus, are machines (and our selves) are subject to all of those issues related to rhetoric and language.  All of those issues, for me, basically ended up comprising my 200+ page dissertation, so I won’t try to rehash them here…yet ;)

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Blazing a trail for good

The thought that often comes into my mind when I consider “As We May Think” is largely about what specific affordances these new technologies offer us.  What, specifically, changes with something like the memex or the Interweb of today?

  • access
  • speed
  • interconnectedness
  • communication

To some extent, some of the qualities are there already.  To some extent, we can access information, even if we have to travel half-way across the world and pay an exorbitant sum to get into a library, some people still have some access.

Maybe it comes down to greater.

Greater access, interconnectedness, and communication.

A lot of this is because of speed, because we have found ways to do everything smaller and with greater power.  We have larger memories, smaller parts, and greater computing power, which equals more speed and and a greater flow of information.

I don’t know what I’m trying to get at here, but I know that I’m trying to understand this at a more granular level.

And at some level, I’m trying, I think, to grapple with one of Bush’s last points:

He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good. (47)

While I used to try to wrap my head around what we’re actually gaining when we think about the technology described in “As We May Think,” now I am more concerned about the social implications of having more speed, more interconnectedness, greater memory, and stronger computing power.  This is somewhat connected with a point made in our last discussion about technology’s ability to maintain silos, stratification, isolation (some of these terms I’m adding from my own thoughts) but also the ability to broaden one’s scope and connect more with others, etc.

We’ve seen recently the ways in which technology can bring people together to effect political change, but there are also many ways in which tyrannical leaders can use technology to control the masses as well (for example, Walter Benjamin shows how “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” can be a force for manipulation, among other things).

This is certainly a big topic, with no actual answer: only more questions.  So I put it out there, on the blog, so I can continue to ruminate over it, and hopefully others may have insights to help me further understand the puzzle.

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