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An example of the machine which is us/ing us

24 July, 2007

Michael Wesch’s great video about the social consequences of so-called Web 2.0 of course provides a lot of food for thought. The argument is that Web 2.0’s increasingly “social” interactive qualities are essentially teaching or training “the machine” using an enormous amount of data uploaded. New technologies of correlation and capture mean that the social qualities of the web don’t merely lie in the types of personal interactions now possible, but in the overall effect of the sum of interactions.

The video below contains a dramatic example of this trend, made possible by two new Microsoft programs called Seadragon and Photosynth. I have to say, I was completely gobsmacked watching it.

I was directed to this video by this post at “this blog sits at the…” The author, Grant McCracken, thoughtfully writes that:

In effect, tags and texts end up giving me perspectival information as, or more, interesting than the photos themselves. They become an opportunity to build collective memories as good or better than the memories we construct for ourselves. And this suggests an internet that contains collective emotional and intellectual resources.

More and more of our internal operations are being off loaded into cyberspace. That memory should be one of them feels wrong, because memory is perhaps the most personal and authenticating of our internal faculties. But it is not difficult to imagine a time when the the “memory of crowds” might be the best memory of all.

These questions about memory, the relationship between public and private, and the sorts of collective consciousness that will be produced by these new developments are important. Whether the possibilities are as positive as Grant suggests, I’m not sure. There would appear to be an even more powerful tendency towards “the hive mind”. And I imagine the points of collective fascination and memory creation, such as Notre Dame, will be matched by dark areas of collective forgetting.

This is obviously something that bears more thinking about.

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