Thursday, February 7, 2008

Thoughts on files and indexation

Bush got me thinking about the indexation of audio and video and images, all of which is currently based on the efficiency of naming and the computer’s knowledge of what a file contains. Google Desktop automatically indexes everything on your computer in a manner that turns a “computer system” into a literal machine for “personal information retrieval and documentation,” (Nelson) so when you use it to search for a string of words, it automatically looks inside all of your emails and word documents (even drafts over which you may have saved!) and instant message conversations. This system falls short in that it won’t find the string of words as lyrics in an mp3 file, or, if I had 4 notes of a melody stuck in my head I can’t yet (as far as I know) hum them into a microphone which would then scan all of the sound waves on my hard drive (and even the internet). Unless someone transcribes all of the pertinent data in an as yet unsearchable file, we must rely on names – signifiers. The advent of the internet/Cyberspace and indexation also seems at present to be relatively short sighted. Google Desktop doesn’t have any user friendly means of backing up your index (database) for the purpose of moving it to a new machine (which seems significant since the lifespan of computers is so short.) Meaning we are able to manufacture this deep database of everything we do on our computer, but can’t hold on to it for very long.

If I want to search for images that have trees in them, at present I can only hope that someone chose to include ‘tree’ in the file name. I’ve heard of image recognition software that has begun to scan images and recognize objects, which would seem necessary to Bush’s idea of comprehensive records and data storage.

As a sort of compromise, an acknowledgement of the shortcomings of the current system, Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics has asked his fans to transcribe the text from his weekly comics into a searchable text file that is associated with the original image. They gladly do this task for him, but it seems to fall short of an ideal computer that was able to visually recognize the content of an image. We are being encouraged to “tag” things, which is again bridging the gap, but what if computers could ‘look’ at a picture that you upload to Facebook and recognize the face of your friend automatically?

It remains left to the technical specialist to convert vinyl records into mp3 format, old Hi-8 video tapes into mpeg files. Whatever happened to the old card-read information (Bush mentioned rooms full of girls devoted to their handling)? Was it ever translated? Backwards compatibility is being shunned, from Macs first doing away with the widespread use of floppy discs by excluding the drives from their machines to the new Mac Air, devoid of any drive media. The amount of media that is becoming obsolete is far too expansive to appeal to enough interest in salvaging it, so in our technological advances we are in effect creating a landfill of forgotten 8 Track tapes, laser discs, music CDs, and Sega cartridges. What does Bush expect to happen to his library of microfilm when Memex 2 comes out and favors the use of nanofilm?

Largely I see Bush’s ideas about trails and Nelson’s zippered lists unaddressed or deemed impertinent by modern computer systems, except for in the case of the internet in which links are nominally manifested. Andrew M’s post (my file system is better than yours) stated that these prophesied links are present today in the form of file shortcuts and aliases almost as casually as I was ready to say they weren’t. I had considered our modern shortcuts as the answer to Bush and Nelson’s hopes, but found it to fall short of the creative, drawing-board aspect and substance of the trails Bush envisioned. Even web bookmarks serve as an unexplained reference out of context.

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