techno-utopia and social cognition

26 12 2004

in his post, your life…online, guy dickinson at participo outlines the possibilities of what he describes as a techno-utopia in which everything we ever do or say is in a central repository at our fingertips. but just as thomas more and others have pointed out in utopian literature over the ages, there are numerous negatives to such a worldview.

i’ll leave the obvious agent anderson/paul rumsfeld privacy issues (see the electric frontier federation for some frightening insights into what the bush administration would do in such a world) for another discussion. one of the negatives i see centers around the role of forgetting and cognitive load.

only a very small portion of what we take into short-term memory
makes it into our long-term memory. if we don’t actively use our
long-term memory we will eventually forget even those memories. of
course the utopia that guy models would, in concept, allow us to
regularly re-activate all of our long-term memory. but it would seem
to me that forgetting gives us the cognitive space to learn and
remember new content. i’m not sure if there is research on this – i’ll
make a note to dig around – but i’ll hypothesize that there are limits
to the wonderful computer in our heads. thus we depend on each other
to help us remember things we’ve forgotten and to complete tasks we
haven’t learned to do.

guy’s post was in reaction to robin good’s ten technologies that are going to change the way we learn.
robin goes a bit over the top in proposing that we will all be able to
have all the knowledge we need to know about world event or hot to
tune-up the engines of our cars or anything else we may need to know or
know how to do at our fingertips. we won’t need reporters, or, by
extrapolation of his proposed future, any other experts. while i will
agree that we may very well have all the information of the world at
our fingertips, literally or figuratively, i don’t agree that this
means the end of specialists.

i believe that it is very much part of human cognition that we must
depend on others to be experts in areas that we vitally need. this
relationship is synergistic. just as i depend upon my doctor to know
all about the newest drugs, therapies and diseases, she depends on
learning professionals like us to give her more efficient and effective
tools to learn that information.

to my thinking a world in which i knew everything would be
exhausting to me and boring as heck. those are my thoughts. please
hit the comment link below and put your two cents in. as aways you can
reach me by emailing dave.


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5 02 2006
James Moir

James Moir

If you’re not afraid of the Unix command line, you could do this with the Cat command. Just type cat mp3-1-name.mp3 mp3-2-name.mp3 mp3-3-name.mp3 > joined-songs.mp3.

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