Google Blogoscoped

Monday, March 7, 2005

Our Social Memory

I just saw Jon Udell’s screencast of social memory which touches ideas of group tagging and RSS databases as restricted information space (e.g. for easy look-ups of what your trusted bloggers said on a certain topic).

Now a social group is based on selection, a hierarchy of trusted sources; Google, of course, is the ultimate flat hierarchy, not knowing who your friends are, what your past is, in which context you find yourself, and where your loyalties go... unless you accept the whole human planet (all of what it chose to put online) as shared brain.

Our connections are dynamic, and we see our memory fades quickly. Google is a shared memory, so what is left for us to care about are broad concepts – opinions, loyalty, trust or taste, if you will – which we need to trigger the specific data behind them.

Broad concepts still need specific words, which often become the key to the specific knowledge behind them (if at any-time I lost all my source-code related to XMLHTTP calls, the word XMLHTTP is enough for me to relearn the specifics in short time, using nothing but Google – without the word, I’m permanently lost). These are words to remember on-demands requests for changing demands. Eichendorff, a 19th Century German poet, said “the world will start to sing if you find the magic word”, while Goethe Sorcerer’s Apprentice realized you sometimes need the right word to make the world stop singing afterwards...

Google, as door to instant world knowledge, in that sense is a brain add-on for lean thinkers. (It just works with shared memories – like in wikis or blogs, or similar Web 2.0 methodologies.) It helps us remember, and the more it does that, the more it will help us forget – and soon, train us to forget (and soon, force us to forget). It is another layer of abstraction and as such puts us one step further away from reality, and towards virtuality.

Do you know how to open a coconut? Would knowing such give further meaning to your information world of today? Would not knowing such be a barrier in actually googling the process? (Enter how to open a coconut into Google, open the second result, and you can see a video explaining things perfectly well – thousands of years ago, we needed a tribal context to inherit and memorize this knowledge).

If we are to obtain specific knowledge these days, we better make sure it’s worthwhile – what is the advantage of knowing something by heart... versus just googling it? This is a matter of topic as well as level of detail. When was Louis XIV born? (I can completely automate the answer to this question using Google-based FindForward.) This is trivia. Knowing the politics at his court on the other hand is not trivia, takes longer to understand, but may not be coupled to the trivia of his birth-date*.

*This, by the way, goes to show a major error in today’s school system and more general. The only thing left for us to justify our education approaches then would be to compare them to running around in circles – you won’t change your position in the end, but you will train your muscles. Even then the question remains whether or not we’re training the right brain muscles at school.

This is a world of stories then, which are fact-less (fictional) – they are emotions, concepts, lies, vague ideas, floating words, context... as we always need to see the bigger picture. (Sometimes, of course, a bigger picture is a collection of trivia, such as understanding the cause and effect in history... try compiling a time-line in Google for a topic no one compiled a time-line for yet, and you will see it takes serious work.) But could it be a future information worker’s main task would be to obtain nothing but stories? Could it be, in shaping his taste, he seeks nothing but beauty? Could it be, him trying to find new concepts, he (in Socrates-style) does nothing but ask questions? And isn’t the whole of humanity still too small a group to make sense on the scale the future demands of us?


Blog  |  Forum     more >> Archive | Feed | Google's blogs | About


This site unofficially covers Google™ and more with some rights reserved. Join our forum!