Memory Auto-amputation

I, like most well-heeled geeks, made the switch from a dial-up connection to an always-on connection several years ago. At the time, I saw it as a practical decision made to reduce download wait times and free up the telephone line. However, since that time I have seen a dramatic shift in the way I use the Internet. I feel less of a need to remember trivia, such as what movies an actor has been in or who sings what song. I was able to have the computer find the answer when I needed it, quicker and more reliably than the rusty trap that is my memory.

Sadly, the term "always-on" Internet connection has traditionally been a bit of a misnomer. It is always on, as long has you have access to a computer with a wire connecting it to the rest of the Internet. However, the trend of ubiquitous access is leading us towards true always-on Internet connections, with wi-fi, smart phones, data watches, and pda's linking us to the vast data storage area that is the web, without prejudice towards where or when we decide to make that link.

Being connected to a large data storage network is only moderately useful. But, coupled with the movement towards a more semantic web, we have a connection that can transform the way we use our memory to remember trivia, personal information, and just about anything else.

In the 1960's Marshall McCluhan explored the metaphor of auto-amputation as a way to describe our use of technologies to extend our body. For instance, the wheel was a natural extension of our legs, allowing us to move faster from point a to point b. In dealing with this extension, the rest of our body learns to adapt by learning new skills and amputating others. It helps explain why most people develop a sense of the boundaries of the car, the same as we understand the boundaries of our body. This amputation has also removed much of our sensitivity to high speeds. In the same way, most electronic technologies can be seen as an extension and auto-amputation of the brain, allowing us to relegate certain thought processes the computer or digital media.

As the trends of ubiquitous access and the semantic web converge, we will be moving more towards a world where it is not what you know, but how quickly you can find it. Google and Microsoft understand this trend and are both moving to capture the information gather space. Google has a stranglehold on Internet search, while Microsoft controls the desktop. Google is expanding their search to try to manage the retrieval of all information contained within personal emails. While Microsoft is building deep searches into the core of their new OS currently in development, Longhorn.

Search is the brute force arm of the semantic web, taking every piece of digital information and analyzing it for each possible query. The more graceful layers of the semantic web should allow for information for a fine web of context, allowing for more knowledge-based answers to questions. Right now it is a matter of storage vs. retrieval. Large cheap hard drives and paperless office initiatives have lead to huge amounts of information being stored. Being able to find the relevant information hidden inside of them, from any location at any time is the key.

We are entering a world where it is no longer as important to know a piece of information as to know how to expediently acquire that information. We need to begin thinking of new media journalism as not only a creation and storage process, but as an ongoing process that continually offers new context and connections to the information contained within.