Fabulously Fifty and Reflecting It! - Discovering My Lovable Me
Technology visionaries such as Vannevar Bush and James Licklider sought to develop machines that could do our remembering for us. And that may have worked had technological development leaned towards the option of living life disconnected from those machines whenever access to their memory banks was not required. This always-on approach to digital technology surrenders my nervous system rather than expanding it.
Likewise, the simultaneity of information streaming towards me prevents parsing or consideration. It becomes a constant flow which must be managed, perpetually.
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The now-ness of the Internet engenders impulsive, unthinking responses over considered ones, and a tendency to think of communications as a way to bark orders or fend off those of others. I want to satisfy the devices chirping and vibrating in my pockets, only to make them stop. Instead of looking at each digital conversation as an opportunity for depth, I experience them as involuntary triggers of my nervous system.
Like my fellow networked humans, I now suffer the physical and emotional stresses previously associated with careers such as air traffic controllers and operators. I feel as though I speeding up, when I am actually just becoming less productive, less thoughtful, and less capable of asserting any agency over the world in which I live. The result something akin to future shock. Only in our era, it's more of a present shock. I try to look at the positive: Our Internet-enabled emphasis on the present may have liberated us from the 20th century's dangerously compelling ideological narratives.
And people are less likely to believe employers' and corporations' false promises of future rewards for years of loyalty now. But, for me anyway, it has not actually brought me into greater awareness of what is going on around me. I am not approaching some Zen state of an infinite moment, completely at one with my surroundings, connected to others, and aware of myself on any fundamental level. Rather, I am increasingly in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnified and those immediately before me are ignored.
Instead of finding a stable foothold in the here and now, I end up reacting to ever-present assault of simultaneous impulses and commands. The Internet tells me I am thinking in real time, when what it really does, increasingly, is take away the real and take away the time. The dimensionality of the Internet has yet to be defined, and the principles outlining its space are constantly negotiated through our use of it.
Ideally, the relation between user and network should one of mutual exchange: I co-produce the network through my involvement in it, and it co-produces me through the information, I get from it. But for this to happen, we have to make better use of the potentials of the Internet, and the Internet has to have an interest in this mutual exchange — it has to invest itself in its users, so to speak. In its current form, the Internet, the way I see it, has signed a contract with a Modernist, two-dimensional conception of space.
The relation between it and its users is one of subject and object: I can see it as if it were an image, but I cannot feel it, I'm not present in it, the interaction between the medium and I is too weak. Being a profoundly democratic medium, opening up unprecedented possibilities of self-expression, freedom of the press and access to information, the Internet is not only the source of unlimited access to knowledge, but paradoxically enough also the breeding ground of a general acceptance of a lack of competences.
Large social communities such as Facebook, which do not produce or exchange any kind of knowledge, seem to flourish, and because search machines are based on trivial algorithmic principles of recognition, it can be hard to find the qualified, critical voices in the bulk of information. If the Internet should help us become more consciously involved with the world, it is not enough to just canalise huge amounts of information into society.
Search engines should be competence-focused, social networks should relate to competent search engines, and video and search functions should be better integrated.
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This requires that Google, Yahoo, AOL and the other large companies defining the future of the Internet, provide the medium with enough confidence to operate with self-criticism. This is not enough. We have to base our use of the Internet on both trust and scepticism.
In this way, the Internet would not stand outside reality and send information in, rather it would be conceived of as a part of reality, and thus the distinction between subject and object would dissolve, and we would experience the Internet as if it were a three-dimensional space. The Internet would become a reality producing machine.
The process was so gradual, so natural, that I didn't notice it at first. In retrospect, it was happening to me long before the advent of the Internet. The earliest symptoms still mar the books in my library. Every dog-eared page represents a hole in my my memory. Instead of trying to memorize a passage in the book or remember an important statistic, I took an easier path, storing the location of the desirable memory instead of the memory itself.
Every dog-ear is a meta-memory, a pointer to an idea that I wanted to retain but was too lazy to memorize. The Internet turned an occasional habit into my primary way of storing knowledge. As the Web grew, my browsers began to bloat with bookmarked Websites, with sites that stored information that I deemed important but didn't feel obliged to commit to memory. And as search engines matured, I stopped bothering even with bookmarks; I soon relied upon Altavista, Hotbot, and then Google to help me find — and recall — ideas.
My meta-memories, my pointers to ideas, started being replaced by meta-meta-memories, by pointers to pointers to data.
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Each day, my brain fills with these quasi-memories, with pointers and with pointers to pointers, each one a dusty IOU sitting where a fact or idea should reside. Now, when I expend the effort to squirrel memories away, I store them in the clutter of my hard drive as much as I do in the labyrinth of my brain. As a result, I spend as much time organizing them, making sure I can retrieve them on demand, as I do collecting them.
My memories are filed in folders within folders within folders, easily accessible — and searchable, in case my meta-memory of their location fails. And when a file becomes corrupt, all I am left with a pointer, a void where an idea should be, a ghost of a departed thought. As visual artists, we might rephrase the question as something like: How has the Internet changed the way we see? For the visual artist, seeing is essential to thought. It organizes information and how we develop thoughts and feelings. It's how we connect.
So how has the Internet changed us visually? The changes are subtle yet profound.
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They did not start with the computer. The changes began with the camera and other film-based media, and the Internet has had an exponential effect on that change. The result is a leveling of visual information, whereby it all assumes the same characteristics. One loss is a sense of scale. Another is a loss of differentiation between materials, and the process of making. Art objects contain a dynamism based on scale and physicality that produces a somatic response in the viewer.
The powerful visual experience of art locates the viewer very precisely as an integrated self within the artist's vision. With the flattening of visual information and the randomness of size inherent in reproduction, the significance of scale is eroded. Visual information becomes based on image alone. Experience is replaced with facsimile. As admittedly useful as the Internet is, easy access to images of everything and anything creates a false illusion of knowledge and experience.
The world pictured as pictures does not deliver the experience of art seen and experienced physically. It is possible for an art-experienced person to "translate" what is seen online, but the experience is necessarily remote. As John Berger pointed out, the nature of photography is a memory device that allows us to forget. Perhaps something similar can be said about the Internet.
In terms of art, the Internet expands the network of reproduction that replaces the way we "know" something. It replaces experience with facsimile. The Internet is producing a fundamental alteration in the relationship between knowledge, content, place and space. If we consider the world as divided into two similarly populous halves: the ones born before and the ones born after — of course there are other important differences such as gender, race, class, ethnicity, geography, etc.
I am responding to this question from Funes, a locality of 15, inhabitants in the core of the Argentine Pampas country side. Five other users are here. A man on a Facebook page posting photos of a baby and a trip and myself, a 42 year-old architect on vacation with an assignment due in two hours! I am the elder here.
I am the nonlocal here. Yet the computer helps me and corrects my spelling without asking anyone. Years ago when I was an architectural student and wanted to know about, say, Guarino Guarini's importance as an architect, I would go two flights down the stairs at Avery Library, get a few cards, follow the numbered instructions on those index cards and find, two or four or seven feet worth of books in a shelf dedicated to the subject I would leaf through all the found books and get a vague, yet physical sense of how much there was to know about the subject matter.
Now I Google "Guarino Guarini", and in 0. My Google search is both very detailed yet not at all physical. I can't tell how much I like this person's personality or work. I can't decide if I want to flip through more entries. I am in a car traveling from New York to Philadelphia. I have GPS but no maps. The GPS announces where to go and takes into account traffic and tolls.
In that other trip I had a map, I entered the city from a bridge, the foreground was industrial and decrepit the background was vertical and contemporary I zoom out the GPS to see if the GPS map reveals an alternative entry route, a different way the city geography can be approached.