Thursday, February 7, 2008

Machines as judges, Patchwork Girl

Two short thoughts:
“. . . each of the connectors shows an indexing of one body of information to another; this user may query his file in any direction along these links, and look up the parts of one list which are related to parts of another. Therefore the lines mean knowledge and order. Note that in such uses it is the man's job to draw the connections, not the machine's. The machine is a repository and not a judge.” T.H. Nelson, “A File Structure for The Complex, The Changing and the Indeterminate,” page 93.
Nelson’s proposed filing system was probably quite visionary in 1965, but today, I think, users of digital media are no longer content with machines acting simply as repositories, even if they aren’t comfortable with them acting as judges yet. Visit a certain blog and you’ll see Google ads tailored to that blog’s content. Rate various movies on Netflix and you’ll get lists of movies Netflix recommends for your tastes. Microsoft Word—however annoyingly—constantly seeks to help out, whether respelling “teh” or automatically numbering lists. I’m not sure how successful these attempts to use machines as judges are (I never liked the Netflix recommendations and I can’t stand it when Word tries to make lists), but is it a shortcoming of the machine or of the user to trust the machine?

My thoughts on Patchwork Girl: While I liked the concept and the writing was very clever at times, I was disappointed by the author’s failure to fully use the medium. The work was incredibly text-heavy, which perhaps fit the subject matter best, but I didn’t see how the result was much better than what could have been achieved by, for example, an epistolary novel, which would have had similar disorienting effects and been able to present multiple viewpoints. I really think the medium of hypertext has much more promise than Patchwork Girl shows.

No comments: