Space, Place, and Memory Prosthetics

Space, Place, and Memory Prosthetics

Phil Turner (Napier University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-020-2.ch014
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Recent years have witnessed a number of initiatives to develop technology (“memory prosthetics”) to enhance and extend human memory. Typical of these is “Memories for Life,” which is one of the Grand Challenges in Computing identified by the British Computer Society in 2004. So far, the emphasis has been on the development of psychologically informed technology. This chapter, in contrast, proposes a conceptual framework based on the Heideggerian concepts of being-with and being-in for the development of such technology.
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People have always striven to address the deficiencies of individual human memory. Recognising the limits of human memory (and wishing to transcend them), we have long sought to augment and otherwise improve upon it by means of technology. Burke and Ornstein (1997) have suggested that the alphabet (the sequential ordering of phonemes) made “a special contribution to the human ability to dissect and reshape the world” (1997, p. 71). With the Greek alphabet we had, for the first time, an easy to use external storage medium replacing oral traditions (and the much more difficult to use hieroglyphic systems) that allowed us to separate thinker from thought and within this, the beginnings of philosophy. Less dramatically, many of us support our memories of events with photographs and souvenirs of various kinds (mementos, reminders, keepsakes, bric-a-brac, and knick-knacks, the wealth of synonyms is quite revealing).

The idea of memory augmentation through digital technology in itself is not, of course, new. Most commentators credit Bush (1945) with the origin of the concept, with his speculations about a “memex” system (which sounds a little like a cross between a personal computer, the Web, and an odd looking piece of furniture). Let us consider an extended quotation for this famous paper for a moment.

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory. It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk. In one end is the stored material. The matter of bulk is well taken care of by improved microfilm. Only a small part of the interior of the memex is devoted to storage, the rest to mechanism. Yet if the user inserted 5000 pages of material a day it would take him hundreds of years to fill the repository, so he can be profligate and enter material freely.

While the description of the memex presents an interesting vision of the augmentation of human memory, the real focus, despite a statement to the contrary, appears to be the issue of storage. Memex is where “all his books, records, and communications” are kept on “improved microfilm” with a project storage capacity of less than 400GB1. In essence, memex was the first vision of an electronic memory prosthetic. Realisations of different aspects of this concept are readily available. For example, Microsoft’s SenseCam technology, which lies at the heart of their MyLifeBits programme (Microsoft, 2007), is a device that captures up to 2,000 images per day together with contextual data. MyLifeBits can, in principle, store a lifetime’s worth of anything that can be digitised. Advances in storage technology have removed the barrier to collecting “everything”; as a Microsoft Research spokesperson has recently observed “you can store every conversation you’ve ever had in a terabyte. You can store every picture you’ve ever taken in another terabyte. And the net present value of a terabyte is $200.” So, a lifetime’s worth of data may be stored for as little as $400 (FutureWire, 2005). Whether this optimism is realised remains to be seen.

Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Alan Dix
Map, mazes, myths, magic, and mathematics, computation, cognition, community, and the constructed environment, all reveal something of our internal... Sample PDF
Paths and Patches: Patterns of Geognosy and Gnosis
Chapter 2
Jon Kerridge
This chapter concerns the question of how people navigate through a space in which other people are also present. Issues addressed include how the... Sample PDF
Let's Meander Through a Measured Space
Chapter 3
Matthew Leach
The Speckled Computing project is a large multisite research project based in Scotland, UK. The aim of the project is to investigate, prototype, and... Sample PDF
Navigating a Speckled World: Interacting with Wireless Sensor Networks
Chapter 4
John Willy Bakke
Workplaces are key loci for expressing and studying organizational identity, even in distributed work. In organization studies, there is a growing... Sample PDF
Contested Terrain: Place, Work, and Organizational Identities
Chapter 5
Anne Sofie Laegran
The chapter is based on a study of Internet cafés in Norway, and interrogates the way space and place is produced in interconnections between people... Sample PDF
Technosocial Space: Connecting People and Places
Chapter 6
Lynne Hall
This chapter discusses artists’ use of virtual space to collaboratively create a digital stained-glass rose window. It explores the use of virtual... Sample PDF
Reconfiguring the Rose: An Exploration of the Use of Virtual Space by Artists Collaboratively Creating Digital Stained Glass
Chapter 7
Elin K. Jacob
In distinguishing between space and place, one approach is to contrast the physicality of space with the sociality of place: space directs attention... Sample PDF
Context, Boundedness, and Structure: The Apprehension of Place in the Development of Information Environments
Chapter 8
Richard Coyne
The widespread use of mobile telephony prompts a reevaluation of the role of the aural sense in spatial understanding. There are clear correlations... Sample PDF
Voice and Space: Agency of the Acousmêtre in Spatial Design
Chapter 9
Susan Turner
This chapter considers the role of sound, and more specifically, listening, in creating a sense of presence (of “being there”) in “places” recreated... Sample PDF
Listening, Corporeality, Place and Presence
Chapter 10
Stephen Boyd Davis
The chapter is concerned with the relationship between the planar space of graphic representations and the world space that they represent. To... Sample PDF
Representing Space: The Pictorial Imperative
Chapter 11
Fiona Carroll
The art of the visual-narrative is not a new phenomenon. Artists and designers have been using images to tell stories for thousands of years. From... Sample PDF
The Spatial Development of the Visual-Narrative from Prehistoric Cave Paintings to Computer Games
Chapter 12
Shaleph O’Neill
The Situationists defined the increasingly spectacularized society (The Society of the Spectacle ) as the alienation of the individual by an... Sample PDF
The Interactive Spectacle and the Digital Situationist
Chapter 13
Shaun Lawson
People use spatial language in everyday face-to-face conversation, and we also now use such language during everyday computer-mediated interactions.... Sample PDF
Spatial Language in Computer Mediated Communication
Chapter 14
Phil Turner
Recent years have witnessed a number of initiatives to develop technology (“memory prosthetics”) to enhance and extend human memory. Typical of... Sample PDF
Space, Place, and Memory Prosthetics
Chapter 15
Julian Warner
This chapter is concerned with exposing the material basis for the concepts of the syntagm and paradigm from linguistics, and the message and... Sample PDF
Materializing Communication Concepts: Linearity and Surface in Linguistics and Information Theory
Chapter 16
Sándor Darányi, Péter Wittek
Current methods of automatic indexing, automatic classification, and information retrieval treat index and query terms, that is, vocabulary units in... Sample PDF
On Information, Meaning, Space and Geometry
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