High speed into the past

I’ve been mulling over a question Alex Peng has recently written on, the role of recorded memories. What does it mean when people have their own personal reality TV programs, i.e., the Real Real World.

Clearly, memory is something other than a 1:1 map of one’s personal history of perceptions. The technology recording the world casts it in its own image. It’s a little difficult to believe that the world wasn’t black-and-white in the 1940s.

The real task is going to be how we prioritize what is recorded, and (on the other side of the coin) how we decide what is unimportant. Maybe we can just record as much as possible, and we can somehow review it faster than it was lived. I have a feeling there are some pretty significant limits to this approach.

More likely, we ignore the things that appear unimportant. With the increasing ubiquity of video surveillance, picking what to record is more and more important. Of course, the problem is that we don’t know what is important, that’s why we are often going back to a record in the first place! It’s embodied in technologies that provide an “instant replay” so that we can take another shot at deciding what is important.

This kind of “oops” treatment, whether it is “where did I leave my keys?” or “should I blame Ney or Grouchy?”, essentially aims to provide you with a second chance to evaluate whether something was or was not important. This seems to be at the heart of the idea of using CVS to store everything.

My guess is that there may be a tie back here to Allport & Postman’s theory of rumor transmission. How did rumor affect a given message? Think about the children’s game of “telephone,” where a message is whispered from person to person around a circle. Leaving aside the deliberate changing of the message (which, obviously, happened more often than not), three things probably happened: the important elements are emphasized, the less important elements are de-emphasized, and the material is recast in such a way as to orient it to the interests and desires of the speaker and the listener.

We already do this with weblogs — in less-than-real-time — the question is whether we can design interfaces that allow us to blog even more easily than we already do. The small step from requiring people to code and upload (or use an editor of some sort) to being able to enter text as I am now and press a button has caused a near-revolution in the use of the internet. Similar adjustments to make this form of communicating may cause similar gains.

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