remembering with social networks 05.18.2007, 9:53 AM
posted by eddie a. tejeda
With 75 percent of all college students on Facebook, and websites like New York Times becoming social-network aware, it's not surprising that in just a few years, for many, social networks are the preferred method for staying in contact (rivaling email, phone and instant message, which are in themselves new technologies). And we should expect this trend to continue; there are even social networks for toddlers! Ostensibly this means that associations from the moment we are born will be cataloged and easily recalled.
It's a bizarre prospect but it seems like that's where we are headed.
Having all this information about your social group so readily available reminds me of a point Dan raised in the post "The Persistence of Memory," where he compares the internet to the story of Funes, a man who after an accident finds himself with perfect memory:
Give it time, though: in a decade, there will be a generation dealing with embarrassing ten-year-old MySpace photos. Maybe we'll no longer be embarrassed about our pasts; maybe we won't trust anything on the Internet at that point; maybe we'll demand mandatory forgetting so that we don't all go crazy.
If the internet, like Funes, can haunt us with our memories, I think it can also rob us from the need to recall.
A few months ago I met with an old friend, who I had not seen in years, and his wife. The next time we met he told me that his wife recognized me and that when she looked through old class photos she found a photo of us sitting next to each other in first grade. "What's her name again!" I asked excitedly and wave of memories came rushing back to me. It's as if the act of unlocking memories (as long as they are not unpleasant memories) opens a valve that briefly activates all your emotions at once; like picking up the scent of an old lover.
Dunbar's number states that 150 is the maximum number of individuals we can maintain social relationships with. I wonder if the excitement occurs when the person falls off your "Top 150" and quickly get backs on. It's interesting to think that these sorts of serendipitous encounters might become much less common as you have access to the whereabouts of everyone you've ever encountered, cheapening each realization and never allowing anyone to fall off the list for long enough to make it unique.
Justin Hager on May 18, 2007 5:58 AM:
If the internet, like Funes, can haunt us with our memories, I think it can also robs us from the need to recall.
ah! but so great the need not to recall!
in the coming times when survival becomes a matter of information and data evenmoreso than almost any technical expertise (what's the difference?), then there becomes an equal need to focus one's mental facilities to a very specific point in order to have useful data rather than alwaysavailable data.
valuable brainspace will not be taken up by any collective information, that which is general and unspecific, other than the bare minimum required to survival as it will all be a click (a thought?) away.
Clancy on May 18, 2007 6:58 AM:
Excellent post. A few years ago, a couple of friends of mine and I decided to collaborate to make a list of all the people our group of people hung out with in college. It was right in the area of 150, and around that time, I first heard of Dunbar's number.
Laurel Papworth on May 18, 2007 7:24 AM:
I must be friend number 151 on the list for most people. :(
I think LivingMemory are the website people that let you upload your lifestory for future generations. Great, unless you turn into the kinda grandparent that lectures and preaches about the good old days over Sunday dinner.
dan visel on May 18, 2007 9:55 AM:
This probably doesn't need to be said, but this argument strongly echoes the one in Plato's Phaedrus, where Socrates tells the story of the Egyptian god Theuth who brings the king Thamus various inventions:
It would take too long to go through all that Thamus is reported to have said for and against each of Theuth's inventions. But when it came to writing, Theuth declared: 'Here is an accomplishment, my lord the king, which will improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians. I have discovered a sure receipt for memory and wisdom.' 'Theuth, my paragon of inventors,' replied the king, 'the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practise it. So it is in this case; you, who are the father of writing, have out of fondness for your offspring attributed to it quite the opposite of its real function. Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring thing to their remembrance by external signs instead of on their own internal resources. What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory. And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant. And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom they will be a burden to society.'
(p.96 of Walter Hamilton's translation.)
Gary Frost on May 18, 2007 10:11 AM:
The advent of slide rules and then calculators diminished the need for mental calculations and its exercises of proficiency. Presumable most people now have impaired arithmetic skills. But who cares? Likewise, memories are just another skill set that can be augmented and somewhat delegated to computer applications, media storage and network access. Again who cares?
The only lament here is that caring is vested within the skill sets that are lost, and so, we find ourselves happy in the new, dependent context.
Eddie A. Tejeda on May 18, 2007 11:01 AM:
Gary, that's the type of argument that I usually make!
But I am confident that you'll agree with me that we must regularly evaluate the consequences of changes to our way of being. Computers and calculators are great , but I am not sure i'll make that argument at the expense of math. Proficiency in math is more important than knowing how to count your change. Math fundamentally changes the way you see the world.
I am a fan of the German-style license: You are tested on both the road rules and mechanics of the automobile. Germany still has to mechanics, but demystifying the internals of car makes for better drivers. I know that's experience I had when I learned how to drive stick.
Robert Nagle on June 4, 2007 12:23 PM:
the most striking thing to me about this post is the 75% number on facebook. I knew that a large percentage were on this site, but I didn't realize how large. I had guessed the number was more than 1 out of 3.
Often, when media reports on new tech trends, they are reporting on early adopters--and I usually have to size estimates down at least by half.
BTW, about the 150 maximum, I wonder if this applies to RSS feeds. Another standard applies for net contacts. As an active blogger, I have had casual contact (casual = 1-5 emails or maybe a single meeting at a conference) with about 1000 people. perhaps more. I wouldn't call them "friends," but they would probably recognize my name if I wrote them about something.
Also, this may be just one of my quirks, but although my memory is mediocre, I have a phenomenal memory for authors and books. I never forget an author's name and usually not their books either. Of course, this kind of memory is no longer so important. It's funny how delicious links are keeping track of things so I don't have to waste brain cells doing so.