Monday, February 8, 2010

Assignment 1, Accessing Information

Between the two readings by Bush and Nelson, the main concern of the two authors was the idea that there would need to be, in the future, a system of managing information, in order to bring about progress (as mentioned in lecture). One could argue that the creation of new technology is, in itself, progress, yet Bush maintains that it is simply a means via which one brings about progress. Bush asserts “There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends.” As Bush seeks to find a solution to liberate the human mind from being “bogged down”, it seems that in today’s time technology also has the ability to create a desire for more information, rather than simply organize it. For instance, the advent of the iPod almost seemed to implant the mindset that it was imperative to have all of one’s music in one portable device; the technology seemed to precede the mentality behind it.

Nelson, on the other hand, seems to contend that the human mind is inclined to think in a particular way, and the method of properly recording one’s way of thinking is through “hypertext”. The writer has a non-linear way of brainstorming and imagining his/her work, and Nelson says there “ought to be a sense of need” of representing complex thought processes (87). It seems as though hypertext first of all demonstrates the inefficiency of the current practice of recording things in a linear fashion through illustrations of ELF files and zippered folders and how much better one could organize information, so at the same time these exact illustrations expose the sickness and provide the remedy for the currently restrictive practice of writing on paper. So both Bush and Nelson feel that technology is a wave of the future that will be imperative as culture moves forward and gathers more and more information, but what they don’t discuss is that people can define themselves through how they access information (such as what search engines one uses, how one uses Facebook, and what those implications are). Yet, while Bush depicts it as a tool of archiving that helps the community at large and Nelson presents it as a natural expression of the creative mind, Gibson’s Neuromancer depicts cyberspace as physically and mentally addictive, The Matrix depicts it as a mental prison. It is a dismal trajectory, but demonstrates an anxiety around progress that starts and ends in the development of new media.

1 comment:

mishigur said...

“…but what they don’t discuss is that people can define themselves how they access information (such as what search engines one uses, how one uses Facebook, and what those implications are).”

I thought that it was interesting that you brought up the topic of personalization, especially in relation to this passage from Nelson:

“Systems of paper have grave limitations for either organizing or presenting ideas. A book is never perfectly suited to the reader; one reader is bored, another confused by the same pages. No system of paper—book or programmed text—can adapt very far to the interests or mode of a particular reader or student.”

While it seems as if both Nelson and Bush refer to sources of organized information as boons to human society (particularly in the fields of academic research), it’s important to note the examples of societal alienation that occur from our use of online information archives. As we saw in that YouTube video yesterday that demonstrated the * magic * of hypertext, these sources are often regarded as important tools that help us interact with one another. We meet our spouses on, find old high school sweethearts on Facebook, reach out to our favorite celebs by commenting on their blogs, talk to strangers with common interests in chatrooms, etc. Geographical, cultural, and psychological distances disappear into thin air within the realms of cyberspace, freeing the gates that once closed us off from one another.

But these online sources also have a tendency to lock us into our own hyper-personalized bubbles of information and interaction. Because we can be so selective in our choice of online information sources, we stand the risk of cutting ourselves off from anything and anyone that lies outside the realm of highly specialized information. If I am interested in art and design and subscribe to and comment on dozens of art and design blogs, I may very well become a part of a very narrow and specific community (or culture?) of people who are interested in art and design. I risk shutting myself off from more varied sources of information and/or communities of people with varied interests. The ability to actively seek out specific types of information is both empowering and efficient; but don’t the types of information we intake passively* contain some value of their own, a value we risk losing by shifting our focus to highly specialized information?

*By “information we intake passively,” I am thinking of information that pops up in addition to, or in the background of, the information that we are seeking. This could include TV advertisements* *, articles on pages of newspapers/magazines that we flip through to get to a desired article, live human conversation, etc.

* * Internet advertisements (particularly banner ads) also belong in this category, but in my own personal experience I have found that these tend to be ignorable (often with a window to close out)…. my Google Reader doesn’t come with ads anyway.