Randomly Accessed Memories: And Chance Encounters on the Road
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You may also like. Jeff Kinney Hardcover Signed Children. Jeff Kinney Hardcover Books. Jeff Kinney Series Paperback Children. Jeff Kinney Fiction Paperback Children. Jeff Hertzberg Cookbooks. Sadly the library was destroyed by fire. Never the less it represented a particular landmark in the development of the concept of a library as a collection of books to provide a reservoir of knowledge, that should be staffed by specific keepers whose tasks included expansion of the collection.
Other similar libraries were established during this period, including those at Ephesus in Turkey and Sankore in Timbuktu. During the period of the Roman Empire wealthy and influential people continued the practice of establishing libraries, most of which were open only to scholars with the appropriate qualifications. A survey in AD identified 29 libraries in Rome, but as the Empire declined the habit of establishing and maintaining libraries was lost. The development of monasteries provided a renewed stimulus for learning. They amassed book collections and introduced the habit of exchanging volumes.
Recognizing the importance of learning the Benedictine rules required that monks spent specified periods of time reading. As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages wealthy families again began to collect books and then donate their libraries to seats of learning in places such as Florence, Paris, Vatican City and Oxford. All of these libraries depended upon the copying of text by hand and it was only the development of printing by Gutenberg in the s that production of books was transformed they were much more readily available.
During the period to there was an extraordinary expansion of libraries, by universities and nations. Some of these were named after major benefactors, such as the Bodlean Library in Oxford and the library donated by the Massachusetts clergyman John Harvard, after whom the university is named. In the United States the Library of Congress was founded in and after a fire during the War of Independence its stock was replenished by the purchase of the collection that had been amassed by Thomas Jefferson.
The Library of Congress now claims to be the largest library in the world with more than million items. It was also during this period that public libraries became more common and books became more generally available for the first time. In some cases subscriptions were used to purchase books, but there was no charge for subsequent loans.
One such was the Library Company of Philadelphia established by a group that included Benjamin Franklin in The oldest surviving free reference library in the United Kingdom, Chetham's, was established in Manchester in It was at this time that the UK parliament passed an Act to promote the formation of Public Libraries. In the United States the first free public library was only formed in , in New Hampshire. The Scots born entrepreneur Andrew Carniegie went on to build more than 1, public libraries in the US between and These libraries were the first to make large numbers of books available to the general public.
Of course books are only valuable to those who have access to them, can read and are encouraged to do so. Often reading was associated with religion as knowledge of the sacred scripture was important. In England around the ability to read a particular Psalm entitled a defendant to be tried in an ecclesiastical court, which was typically more lenient than a civil court.
In some places funds were allocated specifically to teach people to read the scriptures, but this provision was not always available universally. At the time of the civil war in the US owners were prohibited from teaching their slaves to read and write. As recently as the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire was arrested and expelled for daring to teach peasants to read. Universal access to the Internet could have an exceptionally important contribution to make to future political developments. Access to the Internet would then provide the opportunity to everyone anywhere in the world to obtain a great deal of information on any subject that they choose.
Knowledge accumulated over centuries of human experience is an important counter to fashions of the moment communicated through commercial mass media. It is hard to imagine that making each of us aware of the circumstances and beliefs of people in other parts of the world can do anything but good. We would surely be more likely to assist countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq to form liberal democracies by helping to provide education, training, employment and so wealth and greater understanding than by military take over, which inevitably causes a very large numbers of civilian casualties and a great deal of damage.
There is one cautionary note. Texts of any kind, be they on parchment or available through electronic systems, are only as useful as they are accurate. In the days when books were prepared by hand the accuracy of scribes was recognized as being of paramount importance. In a rather different way, but of equal importance, we depend upon the rigor of the research done by those whose electronically reproduced articles we read. Who has not Googled thyself? Most humans have a concept of self that is constructed in terms of how we think we are perceived by those around us and the Internet has made that preoccupation trivially easy.
Now anyone can assess their impact factor through a multitude of platforms including Facebook, Twitter and of course, blogging. Last year, on the request of my publisher, I started a blog to comment on weird and bizarre examples of supernatural thinking from around the world. From the outset I thought that blogging was a self-indulgent activity but I agreed to give it a whirl to help promote my book.
In spite of my initial reluctance I very soon became addicted to feedback. It was not enough to post blogs for some unseen audience. I needed the validation from visitors that my efforts and opinions were appreciated. Within weeks, I had become a numbers junkie looking for more and more hits.
However, the Internet has also made me sentient of my own insignificance and power at the same time. Within the blogosphere, I am no longer an expert on any opinion as it is one that can be shared or rejected by multitude of others. But insignificant individuals can make a significant difference when they coalesce around a cause.
As this goes to press, a British company is under public scrutiny for allegedly selling bogus bomb-detecting dowsing rods to the Iraqi security forces. This has come about because of a blog campaign by like-minded skeptics who have used the Internet to draw attention to what they consider to be questionable business activity. This would have been very difficult and daunting in the pre-Internet days and not something that the ordinary man in street would have taken on.
In this way, the Internet can empower the individual through collective campaigns. I can make a difference because of the Internet. I'll be checking back on Google to see if anyone shares my opinion. Other people can help us compensate for our mental and emotional deficiencies, much as a wooden leg can compensate for a physical deficiency. Specifically, other people can extend our intelligence and help us understand and regulate our emotions.
I've argued that such relationships can become so close that other people essentially act as extensions of oneself, much like a wooden leg can serve as an extension of oneself. When another person helps us in such ways, he or she is participating in what I've called a "Social Prosthetic System.
The Internet is already an enormous repository of the products of many minds, and the interactive aspects of the evolving Internet are bringing it ever closer to the sort of personal interactions that underlie Social Prosthetic Systems. More generally, the Internet functions as if it is my memory. This function of the Internet is particularly striking when I'm writing; I no longer am comfortable writing if I'm not connected to the Internet.
It's become completely natural to check facts as I write, taking a minute or two to dip into PubMed, Wikipedia, or the like. When I write with a browser open in the background, it feels like the browser is an extension of myself. Regarding perception: Sometimes I feel as if the Internet has granted me clairvoyance: I can see things at a distance. I'm particularly struck by the ease of using videos, allowing me to feel as though I've witnessed a particular event in the news. Regarding judgment: The Internet has made me smarter, in matters small and large.
For example, when writing a textbook it's become second nature to check a dozen definitions of a key term, which helps me to distill the essence of its meaning. But more than that, I now regularly compare my views with those of many other people. This inevitably hones my own views. Moreover, I use the Internet for "sanity checks," trying to gauge whether my emotional reactions to an event are reasonable, quickly comparing them to those of others.
These effects of the Internet have become even more striking since I've used a smart phone. I now regularly pull out my phone to check a fact, to watch a video, and to read blogs. Such activities fill the spaces that used to be dead time such as waiting for somebody to arrive for a lunch meeting.
But that's the upside. The downside is that when I used to have those dead periods, I often would let my thoughts drift, and sometimes would have an unexpected insight or idea. Those opportunities are now fewer and farther between. Like anything else, constant connectivity has posed various tradeoffs; nothing is without a price. I am a better thinker now than I was before I integrated the Internet into my mental and emotional processing.
By using the Internet I have renewed or begun new epistolary interactions on a global basis with superb, knowledgeable scientists and historians. The Internet has made quickly available much obscure, scientific literature relevant and invaluable to me. It has generated new colleagues. The luxury far beyond the usual "he says, she says, they-say gossip" of the Internet leads us both nearby and geographically distant associates: graduate students, family members, et al. Note: of course our planet is mostly not earth, it ought to be renamed Planet Water or Planet Hard Rock.
The Internet makes a difference as we zero in toward the final detailed solution of our scientific problem: "How did the ancestral nucleated cell evolve some million years ago? Everyone agrees this evolutionary turning point, the appearance of animal-type cells in the fossil record happened in the time period the geologists call the Proterozoic Eon? The short answer is nucleated cells evolved "by promiscuous forbidden sexual fusion among wildly different kinds of bacteria.
They survived and still live together with the ups-and-downs of permanent merger. Probably some bacterial ancestors look back at the period million years ago when both water and air were full of hydrogen sulfide poisonous to people. Before oxygen bubbled up and its combustion fueled the frenetic rate of environmental degradation that began in the Proterozoic eon and continues until today was "The Age of Bacteria", a calmer, quieter time.
Aided and abetted by our very recent Holocene loud, careless, ignorant, frantic, clever but unwise, ephemeral human species, the rest of our planetmates have been there before us and will be there when we're gone. I still remember typing essays on a much loved typewriter in my first year of university. Then the first computer, the first email account, the slow yet fluid entry into a new digital world that felt strangely natural. The advent of the Internet age happened progressively, we saw it develop like a child born of many brains, a protean animal whose characteristics were at once predictable and unknown.
As soon as the digital sphere and became a worldwide reality recognizable as a new era, predictions and analyses about it grew. Edge itself was born as the creature was still growing new limbs. The tools for research and communication about this research developed along with new thinking about mind-machine interaction, about the future of education, about the impact of the Internet on texts and writing, about the issues of filtering, relevance, learning and memory.
- Animales: Mis amigos del Bosque (Libros ilustrados para niños y niñas) (Spanish Edition).
- Sonatina Op.38 - Harp;
- Five Years Later: The Best Music of ! - Spectrum Culture;
- 13XL release new music video “frosty tips”.
- interview | milkk.
And then somehow the creature became autonomous, an ordinary part of our universe. We are no longer surprised, no longer engaged in so much meta-analysis: we are dependent, some of us are addicted to this marvelous tool, this multi-faceted medium that is — as predicted even ten years ago — concentrating all of communication, knowledge, entertainment, business.
I, like so many of us, spend so many hours before a flat computer screen, typing away, even when surrounded by countless books, that it is hard to say exactly how the Internet has affected me. The Internet is becoming as ordinary as the telephone. Humans are very good at adapting to the technologies we create, and the Internet is the most malleable, the most human of all technologies, just as it can also be intensely alienating from everything we've lived as before now. I waver between these two positions: at times gratefully dependent on this marvel, at other times horrified at what this dependence signifies.
Too much concentrated in one place, too much accessible from one's house, the need to move about in the real world nearly nil, the rapid establishment of social networking Websites changing our relationships, the reduction of three-dimensionality to that flat screen. Rapidity, accessibility, one-click for everything: where has slowness gone, and tranquillity, solitude, quiet? The world I took for granted as a child, and that my childhood books beautifully represented, jerks with the brand new world of artificial glare and electrically created realities, faster, louder, unrelated to nature, self-contained.
The technologies we create always have an impact on the real world, but rarely has a technology had such an impact on minds. We know what is happening to those who were born after the advent of the Internet and for those like me who started out with typewrites, books, slowness, reality measured by geographical distance and local clocks, the world that is emerging now is very different indeed from the world we knew.
I am of that generation for which adapting to computers was welcome and easy, but for which the pre-Internet age remains real. I can relate to those who call the radio the wireless, and I admire people in their 70s or 80s who communicate by email, because they come from further away still. Perhaps the way forward would be to emphasize the teaching of history in schools, to develop curricula on the history of technology, to remind today's children that their technology, absolutely embracing as it feels, is relative, and does not represent the totality of the universe.
Millions of children around the world don't need to be reminded of this — they have no access to technology at all, many not even to modern plumbing — but those who do should know how to place this tool historically and politically. As for me, I am learning how to make room for the need to slow down and disconnect without giving up on my addiction to Google, email, and rapidity. I was lucky enough to come from somewhere else, from a time when information was not digitized. And that is what perhaps enables me to use the Internet with a measure of wisdom.
Never then did I imagine the potential dangers, or the creative possibilities, of polarization in virtual groups. Electronic communication and social networking enable Tea Partiers, global warming deniers, and conspiracy theorists to isolate themselves and find support for their shared ideas and suspicions. As the Internet connects the like-minded and pools their ideas, White supremacists may become more racist, Obama-despisers more hostile, and militia members more terror prone thus limiting our power to halt terrorism by conquering a place. But the Internet-as-social-amplifier can instead work for good, by connecting those coping with challenges.
Peacemakers, cancer survivors, and bereaved parents find strength and solace from kindred spirits. By amplifying shared concerns and ideas, Internet-enhanced communication can also foster social entrepreneurship. An example: As a person with hearing loss, I advocate a simple technology that doubles the functionality of hearing aids, transforming them, with the button push, into wireless loudspeakers.
After experiencing this "hearing loop" technology in countless British venues, from cathedrals to post office windows and taxi back seats, I helped introduce it to West Michigan, where it can now be found in several hundred venues, including Grand Rapids' convention center and all gate areas of its airport. Then, via a Website, hearing listservs, and e-mail I networked with fellow hearing advocates and, by feeding each other, our resolve gained strength.
Thanks to the collective efficacy of our virtual community, hearing aid compatible assistive listening has spread to other communities and states. New York City is installing it in subway information booths. Leaders in the American Academy of Audiology and the Hearing Loss Association of America are discussing how to promote this inexpensive, wireless assistive listening. Several state hearing loss associations are recommending it. The hearing industry is now including the needed magnetic receiver in most hearing aids and cochlear implants. And new companies have begun manufacturing and marketing hearing loop systems.
The moral: By linking and magnifying the inclinations of kindred-spirited people, the Internet can be very, very bad, but also very, very good. Being among those who have predicted that humans will be uploading their minds into cybermachines in the not too distant future, one might assume I'm enthusiastic about the Internet.
But the thinking of my still primate mind about the new mode of information exchange is more ambiguous. No doubt the Internet is changing the way I operate and influence the world around me. Type "gregory paul religion and society" into Google and nearly four million hits come up. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it looks impressive. An article in a Brit newspaper on my sociological research garnered over comments. The new communication environment is undoubtedly altering my research and publicity strategy relative to what it would be in a less digital world.
Even so, I am not entirely sure how my actions are being modified. The only way to find out would be to run a parallel universe experiment in which everything is the same except for the existence of an Internet type of communications, and see what I do in the alternative situation. What is disturbing to this human raised on hard copy information transmission is how fast the Internet is destroying a large portion of the former.
My city no longer has a truly major newspaper, and the edgy, free City Paper is a pale shadow of its former self in danger of extinction. I have enjoyed living a few blocks from a major university library because I could casually browse through the extensive journal stacks, leafing through assorted periodicals to see what was up in the latest issues. Because the search was semi-random it was often pleasantly and usefully serendipitous. Now that the Hopkins library has severely cut back on paper journals as the switch to online continues it is less fun.
It's good to save trees, and looking up a particular article is often easier online, but checking the contents of latest issue of Geology on the library computer is neither as pleasant nor convenient. I suspect that the range of my information intake has narrowed, and that can't be good. On the positive side, it could be amazingly hard to get basic info before the Web showed up. In my teens I was intrigued by the notorious destruction of the HMS Hood in , but was not able to get a clear impression of the famed vessel's appearance for a couple of years until I saw a friend's model, and I did not see a clear image until well after that.
Such extreme data deprivation is thankfully over due to Wikipedia, etc. But even the Internet cannot fill all information gaps. It often remains difficult to search out obscure details of the sort found only in books that can look at subjects in depth. Websites often reference books, but if the Internet limits the production of manuscript length works then the quality of information is going to suffer.
As for the specific question of how the Internet is changing my thinking, online apps facilitate the statistical analyses that are expanding my sociological interests and conclusions further than I ever thought they would go, leading to unanticipated answers to some fundamental questions about popular religion that I am delighted to uncover. Beyond that there are more subtle effects, but exactly what they are I am not sure sans the parallel world experiment. I also fear that the brevity favored by on screen versus page turning reading is shortening my attention span.
It is as if one of Dawkins's memes is altering my unwilling mind like a bad science fiction story. But that's a non-quantitative, anecdotal impression; perhaps I just think my thinking has changed. It is possible the new arrangement is not altering my mental exertions further than it is because the old fashioned mind generated by my brain remains geared to the former system. The new generation growing up immersed in the digital complex may be developing thinking processes more suited for the new paradigm for better or for worse. But as far as I know that's a hypothesis rather than a documented fact.
Perhaps human thinking is not as amenable to being modified by external factors as one might expect. And the Internet may be more retro than it first seems. The mass media of the 20th century was truly novel because the analog based technology turned folks from home entertainers and creators gathering around the piano and singing and inventing songs and the like to passive consumers of a few major outlets sitting around the telly and fighting over the remote. People are using hyperfast digital technology to return to self-creativity and entertainment.
How all this is affecting young psyches is a matter for sociobehavioral and neuropsychological research to sort out. But how humans old and young are effected may not matter all that much. In the immediacy of this early 21st century moment the Internet revolution may look more radical than it actually is, it could merely introduce the real revolution. The human domination of digital communications will be a historically transitory event if and when high-level thinking cyberminds start utilizing the system.
The ability superintelligences to share and mull over information will dwarf what mere humans can manage. Exactly how will the interconnected uberminds think? Hell if I know. We don't yet understand how we think or what it means to change the way we think. Scientists are making inroads and ultimately hope to understand much more. But right now all I and my fellow contributors can do are make observations and generalize. We don't even know if the Internet changes the way we read. It certainly changes how we read, as it changes how we do many aspects of our work.
Maybe it ultimately changes how our brains process written information but we don't yet know. Still, the question of how the Internet changes how we think is an enormous problem, one that anecdotes might help us understand. So I'll tell a couple if I can focus long enough to do so. Someone pointed out to me once that he, like me, never uses a bookmark in a book. It doesn't make sense to find a place in a book that you technically have read but that is so far from your memory that you don't remember having read it. By not using a bookmark, I was guaranteed to return to the last continuous section of text that actually made a dent in my brain.
With the Internet we tend to absorb multiple pieces of information about whatever topic we decide we're interested in. Online, we search. In fact Marvin Minsky recently told me that he prefers reading on an electronic device in general because he values the search function. And I certainly often do too. In fact I tend to remember the answer to the pointed pieces of information I ask about on the Internet better than I do when reading a long book. But there is also the danger that something valuable about reading in a linear fashion, absorbing information internally, and processing it as we go along is lost with the Internet or even electronic devices, where it is too easy to cheat by searching.
One aspect of reading a newspaper that I've already lost a lot of is the randomness that comes with reading in print rather than online. Today I read the articles that I know will interest me when I'm staring at a computer screen and have to click to get to the actual article.
- How to Fix Sound Not Working on a Mac.
- Falling Up;
- Randomly Accessed Memories: And Chance Encounters on the Road - Jeff Burkhart - Google книги.
- A Weaver Of Dreams;
- Random Access Memories.
Despite its breadth, and the fact that I can be so readily distracted, I still use the Internet in a targeted fashion. So why don't I stick to print media? The Internet is great for disorganized people like me who don't want to throw something away for fear of losing something valuable they missed. I love knowing everything is still on line and that I can find it. I hate newspapers piling up. I love not having to be in an office to check books.
I can make progress at home, on a train, or on a plane when there is enough room between rows to open my computer. And I do often take advantage of the Internet's breadth, even if it is a little more directed. A friend might send me to a Web site. Or I might just need or want to learn about some new topic.
The Internet also allows me to be bolder. I can quickly get up to speed on a topic I previously knew nothing about. I can check facts and I can learn other's points of view on any subject I decide is interesting. I can write about subjects I wouldn't have dared to touch before, since I can quickly find out the context in a way that was previously much more difficult to access. Which brings me back to the idea of the quote "the plural of anecdotes is not data. It's not entirely clear but it might go back to a pharmacologist named Frank Kotsonis, who was writing about the effects of aspartame.
I find this particularly funny because I stopped consuming aspartame due to my personal anecdotal evidence that it made me focus less well. But I digress. Here's the truly funny aspect of the quote I discovered with my Google search. The original quote from the Berkeley political scientist Raymond Wolfinger was exactly the opposite, "The plural of anecdotes is data. The fact is that the Internet provides a wealth of information. It doesn't yet organize it all or process it or arrange for scientific conclusions.
The Internet allows us as a group to believe both facts and their opposites; we'll all find supporting evidence or opinions. But we can attend talks without being physically present and work with people we've never met in person. We have access to all physics papers as they are churned out but we still have to figure out which are interesting and process what they say. I don't know how differently we think. But we certainly work differently and do so at a different pace. We can learn many anecdotes that aren't yet data.
This set me thinking about my own interactions with the Internet, and how they might differ fundamentally from using any other sources of information. Lady Antonia could, I suppose, have said, "If you have cancer, don't look at the Merck Manual," or some other medical guide, but there must be more to it than that. It is, first of all, the effortlessness with which it can be used. I used to joke that if I had a query which could be answered by consulting a book in the shelves on the other side of my study or by using the Internet, it would be quicker and less energy-consuming to find the answer on the Internet.
It's not even funny any more, because it's obviously the most efficient way to do things. I am one of the few people who seem to trust Wikipedia. Its science entries, in particular, are extremely thorough, reliable and well-sourced. People who trust books two or more years out of date rather than Wikipedia are like people who balk at buying on the Internet for security reasons but happily pay with a credit card in restaurants where an unscrupulous waiter could keep the carbon copy of the slip and run up huge bills before they knew it.
Lady Antonia Fraser's remark was really a tribute to the reliability and comprehensiveness of the Internet. It doesn't of course mean that it was accurate. She may not have consulted all cancer sites, or it may be that no one really knows for sure what the prognosis was for oesophageal cancer. This, of course, has nothing to do with thinking. It could be that I would think the same if I'd been writing my books with a quill pen and had only the Bible, Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson's Dictionary to consult. But the Internet certainly constrains what I think about. It stops me thinking any more about that great idea for a book that I now find was published a few years ago by a small university press in Montana.
It also reinforces my belief in my own ideas and opinions because it is now much quicker to test them, particularly when they are new opinions. Of course, I was inclined to disbelieve in Intelligent Design before I had access to the wide range of wacky and hysterical Websites that promote it.
But now I have no doubts at all that the theory is tosh. What do I do all day, sitting at my computer? I string words together, reread them, judge them, improve them if necessary and print them out or send them to people. And underlying this process is a judgement about what is interesting, novel or in need of explanation, and the juggling of words in my mind to express these concepts in a clear way. None of that, as far as I am aware, has changed because of the Internet. But this is to deal with only one aspect of the Internet, its provision of factual content. But before all this, I knew there were lots of people in the world, capable of using language and saying clever or stupid things.
Now I have access to them in a way I didn't before, but again this is just information provision rather than a change in ways of thinking. Perhaps the crucial factor is speed. If I was setting out to write a book, I would start with a broad outline and a chapter breakdown, and these would lead me to set a series of research tasks which could take months: look in this library, write to this expert, look for this book, find this document. Now the order of things has changed.
While I was doing all the above, which could take weeks or months, my general ideas for the book would be evolving. My objectives might change, and my research tasks with them. I would do more 'broad brush' thinking. Now, when documents can be found and downloaded in seconds, library catalogues consulted from one's desk, experts emailed and a reply received within 24 hours, the idea is set in stone much earlier.
The broad brush thinking is now informed rather than uninformed. I give up. It's only a tool. An electric drill wouldn't change how I many holes I make in a piece of wood, it would only make the hole-drilling easier and quicker. A car doesn't change the nature and purpose of a journey I make to the nearest town, it only makes it quicker and leads to me making more journeys, than if I walked.
But what about Lady Antonia Fraser? Is the truth-telling power of the Internet something to avoid? But anyone who says this is news just doesn't get out enough. The only way my thinking would have been changed by this 'revelation' would have been if I believed along with Dr Pangloss that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
And I don't. I notice that some radical social experiments which would have seemed Utopian to even the most idealistic anarchist 50 years ago are now working smoothly and without much fuss. On the upside, I notice that the variable trustworthiness of the Net has made people more sceptical about the information they get from all other media.
I notice that I now digest my knowledge as a patchwork drawn from a wider range of sources than I used to. I notice too that I am less inclined to look for joined-up finished narratives and more inclined to make my own collage from what I can find. I notice that I correspond with more people but at less depth. I am unconvinced of the value of these. I worry that this may be at the expense of First Life. My notebooks take longer to fill. I notice that I mourn the passing of the fax machine, a more personal communication tool than email because it allowed the use of drawing and handwriting.
I notice that my mind has reset to being primarily linguistic rather than, for example, visual. I notice that the idea of 'expert' has changed. An expert used to be 'somebody with access to special information'. Now, since so much information is equally available to everyone, the idea of 'expert' becomes 'somebody with a better way of interpreting'.
Judgement has replaced access. I notice that I find it hard to get a whole morning of uninterrupted thinking. I notice that I am expected to answer emails immediately, and that it is difficult not to. I notice that as a result I am more impulsive. I notice that I more often give money in response to appeals made on the Net.
I notice that 'memes' can now spread like virulent infections through the vector of the Net, and that this isn't always good. I notice that I sometimes sign petitions about things I don't really understand because it is easy. I assume that this kind of irresponsibility is widespread. I notice that everything the Net displaces reappears somewhere else in a modified form. For example, musicians used to tour to promote their records, but, since records stopped making much money due to illegal downloads, they now make records to promote their tours. Bookstores with staff who know about books and record stores with staff who know about music are becoming more common.
I notice that more attention is given by creators to the aspects of their work that can't be duplicated. The 'authentic' has replaced the reproducible. I notice that almost all of us haven't thought about the chaos that would ensue if the Net collapsed. What is the impact of spending hours each day in front of a monitor, surfing the Internet and playing games? Brains are highly adaptable and experiences have long-term effects on the brain's structure and function.
You are aware of some of the changes and call it your memory, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. We are not aware of more subtle changes, which nonetheless can affect your perception and behavior. These changes occur at all levels of your brain, from the earliest perceptual levels to the highest cognitive levels.
Priming is a dramatic example of unconscious learning, in which a brief exposure to an image or a word can affect how you respond to the same image or word, even in degraded forms, many months later. In one experiment, the outlines of animals and other familiar objects were viewed briefly and 17 years later the subjects could still identify the animals and objects above chance levels from versions in which half the outlines were erased.
Some of the subjects did not remember participating in the original experiment. With conceptual priming, an object like a table can prime the response to a chair. Interestingly, priming decreases reaction times and is accompanied by a decrease in brain activity — it becomes faster and more efficient. Brains, especially youthful ones, have an omnivorous appetite for information, novelty and social interaction, but it is less obvious why we are so good at unconscious learning.
One advantage is that it allows the brain to build up an internal representation of the statistical structure of the world, whether it is the frequency of neighboring letters in words or the textures, forms and colors that make up images. Brains are also adept at adapting to sensorimotor interfaces. We first adapted to clunky keyboards, then to virtual pointers to virtual files, and now to texting with fingers and thumbs.
As you become an expert at using it, the Internet, as with other tools, becomes an extension of your brain. Are the changes occurring in your brain as you interact with the Internet good or bad for you? Adapting to the touch and feel of the Internet makes it easier to extract information, but a better question is whether the changes in your brain will improve your fitness.
There was a time, no long ago, when the heads of corporations did not use the Internet because they never learned to type, but they are going extinct and have been replaced with more Internet savvy managers. Gaining knowledge and skills should benefit survival, but not if you spend all of your time immersed in the Internet.
The intermittent rewards can become addictive, hijacking your dopamine neurons that predict future rewards. The Internet, however, has not been around long enough, and is changing too rapidly, to know what the long-term effects will be on brain function. What is the ultimate price for omniscience?
For me, the Internet is a return to yesteryear; it simply allows me and all the rest of us to think and behave in ways for which we were built long long ago. Take love. For millions of years, our forebears traveled in little hunting and gathering bands. About 25 individuals lived together day and night; some ten to twelve were children and adolescents; the balance were adults. But everyone knew just about everybody else in a neighborhood of several hundred miles. They got together too. Annually in the dry season, bands congregated at the permanent waters that dotted eastern and southern Africa.
And although a pubescent girl who saw a cute boy at the next campfire might not know him personally, her mother probably knew his aunt or her older brother had hunted with his cousin. All were part of the same broad social Web. Moreover, in the ever-present gossip circles, a young girl could easily collect data on a potential suitor's hunting skills, even whether he was amusing, kind or smart. We think it's natural to court a totally unknown person in a bar or club. But it's far more natural to know a few basic things about an individual before meeting him or her.
Internet dating sites, chat rooms, social networking sites provide these details, enabling the modern human brain to pursue more comfortably its ancestral mating dance. Then there's the issue of privacy. Some are mystified by the way others, particularly the young, so frivolously reveal their intimate lives on Facebook, Twitter, in emails and via other Internet billboards. This odd human habit has even spilled into our streets and other public places. How many times have you had to listen to someone nonchalantly blare out their problems on cell phones while you sat on a train or bus.
Yet for millions of years our forebears had almost no privacy. With the Internet, we are returning to this practice of shared community. Sure, with "the Net," I more easily and rapidly acquire information than in the old days. I can more easily sustain connections with colleagues, friends and family. I no longer take long walks to the post office to mail manuscripts.
I don't pound on typewriter keys all day, or use "white-out. And sometimes I find it easier to express complex or difficult feelings via email than in person or on the phone. My values haven't altered. I have just as much data to organize. My energy level is just the same. My workload has probably increased. And colleagues want what they want from me even faster.
But the way I think? I don't think any harder, faster, longer, or more effectively than I did before I bought my first computer in In fact, the rise of the Internet only reminds me of how little any of us have changed since the modern human brain evolved more than 35, years ago.
With the Internet, we just have a much louder megaphone with which to scream who we really are. Before the Internet, I made more trips to the library and more phone calls.
I read more books and my point of view was narrower and less informed. I walked more, biked more, hiked more, and played more. I made love more often. The seductive online sages, scholars, and muses that joyfully take my curious mind where ever it needs to go, where ever it can imagine going, whenever it wants, are beguiling. All my beloved screens offer infinite, charming, playful, powerful, informative, social windows into global human experience. The Internet, the online virtual universe, is my jungle gym and I swing from bar to bar: learning about: how writing can be either isolating or social; DIY Drones unmanned aerial vehicles at a Maker Faire; where to find a quantified self meetup; or how to make Sach moan sngo num pachok.
I can use image search to look up hope or success or play. I can find a video on virtually anything; I learned how to safely open a young Thai coconut from this Internet of wonder. As I stare out my window, at the unusually beautiful Seattle weather, I realize, I haven't been out to walk yet today — sweet Internet juices still dripping down my chin. I'll mind the clock now, so I can emerge back into the physical world. The Internet supports my thinking and the physical world supports that, as well as, rich sensing and feeling experiences.
It's no accident we're a culture increasingly obsessed with the Food Network and Farmer's Markets — they engage our senses and bring us together with others. How has the Internet changed my thinking? The more I've loved and known it, the clearer the contrast, the more intense the tension between a physical life and a virtual life.
The Internet stole my body, now a lifeless form hunched in front of a glowing screen. My senses dulled as my greedy mind became one with the global brain we call the Internet.
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I am confident that I can find out about nearly anything online and also confident that in my time offline, I can be more fully alive. The only tool I've found for this balancing act is intention. The sense of contrast between my online and offline lives has turned me back toward prizing the pleasures of the physical world. I now move with more resolve between each of these worlds, choosing one, then the other — surrendering neither.
What struck me was the complete absence of technology. No telephone, e-mail, or other communication facilitators. Nothing could interrupt my thoughts. Technology could be accessed outside the offices whenever one wished, but it was not allowed to enter through the door at its own will. This protective belt was deliberately designed to make sure that scholars had time to think, and to think deeply. In the meantime, the Center, like other institutions, has surrendered to technology.
Today, people's minds are in a state of constant alert, waiting for the next e-mail, the next SMS, as if these will deliver the final, earth-shattering insight. I find it surprising that scholars in the "thinking profession" would so easily let their attention be controlled from the outside, minute by minute, just like letting a cell phone interrupt a good conversation. Were messages to pop up on my screen every second, I would not be able to think straight.
Maintaining the Center's spirit, I check my email only once a day, and keep my cell phone switched off unless I make a call. An hour or two without interruption are heaven for me. But the Internet can be used in an active rather than a reactive way, that is, not letting it determine how long we can think and when we have to stop.
The question is, does an active use of the Internet change our way of thinking? I believe so.
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The Internet shifts our cognitive functions from searching for information inside the mind towards searching outside the mind. It is not the first technology to do so. Consider the invention that changed human mental life more than anything else: writing, and subsequently, the printing press. Writing made analysis possible; with writing, one can compare texts, which is difficult in an oral tradition.
But writing makes long-term memory less important than it once was, and schools have largely replaced the art of memorization by training in reading and writing. Most of us can no longer memorize hour-long folktales and songs as in an oral tradition. The average modern mind has a poorly trained long-term memory, forgets rather quickly, and searches for information more in outside sources such as books instead inside memory.
The Internet has amplified this trend of shifting knowledge from the inside to the outside, and taught us new strategies for finding what one wants using search machines. This is not to say that before writing, the printing press, and the Internet, our minds did not have the ability to retrieve information from outside sources. But these sources were other people, and the skills were social, such as the art of persuasion and conversation. The Internet is essentially a huge storage room of information, and we are in the process of outsourcing information storage and retrieval from mind to computer, just as many of us have already outsourced the ability of doing mental arithmetic to the pocket calculator.
We may loose some skills in this process, such as the ability to concentrate over an extended period of time and storing large amounts of information in long-term memory, but the Internet is also teaching us new skills for accessing information. It is important to realize that mentality and technology are one extended system. The Internet is a kind of collective memory, to which our minds will adapt until a new technology eventually replaces it. Then we will begin outsourcing other cognitive abilities, and hopefully, learn new ones. The Internet has not so much changed my thinking as it has expanded my preexisting artistic sensibility.
Like many collagist, I cobble together quilts of disparate information that rely on uncanny juxtapositions to create new meaning. Cut and paste has always been the way I think. I used to spend days in bookstores and libraries searching for raw images and information to be reorganized and repurposed into my pictures. Now I sit in front of my computer and grab them out of the Internet hive mind that expands endlessly outwards, a giant, evolving global collage that participants edit to conform to their needs and sensibilities.
This process of hunting and capturing reduces me to a pair of hungry eyes and two thinking hands. My whole body is for later, for when I build my pictures analog-style. When the image is finally assembled, it sings in the chorus of a million authors. I am the conductor and through me, this collective hums. The electricity overwhelms me. I'm no longer a rugged individualist. There was a time, not that long ago, when the apostles of the coming digital age predicted the obsolescence of unique art objects.
They forgot that some once believed that the emergence of photography would render paintings useless. As we now know, the emergence of photography actually helped free artists from the need to describe the world realistically, and this helped revivify painting and jumpstart modernism.
From then on, artists could do anything they wanted, and they did. Photography caused all hell to break loose, and that hell and some new ones are now fighting it out in an info-cloud. Now I can do more than I ever thought I wanted. The Internet has given me a new paintbrush that I can use towards the making of singular things. In this landscape of endless copies, a real thing, made by a person, with its repository of the creator's time and it's tactility, scale and surface quality is almost startling in its strangeness.
Growing up in the land of theme parks, I became aware at an early age that the unreal is the realist thing there is. Waterfalls without pumps and electricity? A sublime without LSD? Who are you kidding? Experiencing all this made me want to make real things about my unreal world. Now I can capture banal elements of the shimmering digital mirage and fix them into place where they can become strange again. Oh real, tangible things, is my love for you proof of my own obsolescence? I'm filled with nostalgia for the dying objects of the old economy.
Over the years, I would occasionally draw on top of handmade, unique photograms. Now, the kind of photo paper that can withstand my scribbling has become extinct. I've also sporadically used the front page of the New York Times as a backdrop for collage and paint interventions. How long will it be before it too is no longer available? Still, vinyl refuses to die. Maybe there is hope. I used to be jealous of cultural forms that existed through an economy of copies. Books, newspapers, magazines, films and recordings offered a democratic way for consumers to pony up a tiny chunk of money that helped the author or enterprise survive and sometimes even prosper.
Now copies are worth even less than the paper they're not printed on. Despite the new economy, unique art objects seem to have maintained a semblance of monetary value. For the time being at least. While a few patrons have always supported a few artists, most art is still not worth much. In the future, I expect that we'll all be poor, but for the time being, value is now given to living humans doing real things, or real things made by living humans.
Well, all living humans except for poets. No one said the Internet was fair. I'm an information grazer. I've always felt comfortable with skidding across vast plains of data, connecting the dots wherever it feels right. The Internet mirrors the cross connectivity of my own mind — a mind, it should be noted, that has been hybridized by drugs and other consciousness altering activities.
Aldous Huxley famously posited that to enable us to live, the brain and nervous system eliminates unessential information from the totality of our minds. Psychedelics, on the other hand, overwhelm our minds with the fullness of the world. In other words, information overload is just another way of being psychedelic.
I can live with this. All good art experiences are inherently psychoactive.