Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Our hideous progeny, resembling the human mind

Although new concepts were brought up in class I would like to go back to Bush’s “As We May Think.” In his vision of a future device, which would eliminate the need for repetitive functions, the memex is derived from the image of the human mind. Believing that indexing systems are too restrictive the memex would allow man to access the archive in the mode of the cognitive function of the mind, which “operates by association.” Although a system relying on analogue forms of storage, it is clear how many attempt to see his text as a precursor to the modern day Internet. While I think that though Bush’s vision and the Internet may be similar in the ways they are used, the fact that the Internet is a digital form, deriving from code shows why we cannot look at the memex as a fictionalized version of what was to come. What I find important though is the desire by both Bush and later Nelson to develop a system that modeled man’s complex web of ideas and associative thinking patterns.
It is interesting if not a little disquieting to think that the one-day perfect form of not only hypertext but also all code will be an exact replica of human cognition. And though I know that no such machine exists, as we create forms that closer model our own ability, how can we not fear the eventual birth of the artificial mind, that in many fictitious accounts ranging from The Matrix to Neuromancer represents humanity’s greatest opposition?
Though this is the extreme case, Nelson did state that the “small computer with mass memory and video-type display now costs $37,000; amortized over time this would cost less than a secretary.” While the transition from human labor to mechanized labor has gradually progressed since the Industrial Revolution, it is interesting to see that we may be approaching an age when the machine causes the capacity of the human mind to become obsolete.
On a completely different note, I would like to discuss the experience with Patchwork Girl. As stated by others, I found my initial experience frustrating, not truly sure how I should interact with the intricate story web. Through trial and error I began to peel at the layers of the story, exploring the mind and emotions of the monster/woman. After my exploration, I found it appropriate that the subject of such a unique form was linked to Shelly’s Frankenstein. In many ways the hypertext adventure of Patchwork Girl is very similar to Shelly’s novel, especially when observing the text as a metaphor for the creature itself. Shelly’s work which is “patchwork” of letters is like Patchwork Girl in that the collective body of text is sewn together from distinct pieces.
Another aspect of Patchwork Girl that I truly enjoyed was its exploration of the human experience and subjectivity. This is especially augmented by the fact that in order to progress through the story of Patchwork Girl one is actively navigating through the hypertext links. This active form of reading is interesting because not only does it require a greater amount of focus, but also it gives the illusion of navigability, especially when using both the text box and the expandable map. One truly feels that they are following a path; in fact, I was frustrated when I would not progress to the next link in the way I wished. Because of this illusion of physical navigation, I wonder if Patchwork Girl is a concrete example of Foucault’s heterotopia. It simulates the real causing us to believe that there are actual paths we are taking and following, and yet it is a place that is fundamentally “outside of all places.”

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