January 11, 2004
Non-humanistic computing

David Weinberger has installed GPS navigation in his car and gives us a demonstration of one of the key points of Steve Mann's concept of humanistic computing:

we might ask the question ``since we have intelligent highways, smart floors, smart furniture, smart lightbulbs, smart toilets, smart elevators, ... why not have ``smart people'' --- people equipped with information processing hardware. This ``smart people/dumb environment'' paradigm suggests an alternative to ``smart rooms'' and other environmental intelligence gathering infrastructure. Moreover, the ``smart people/dumb environments'' framework solves the privacy issues, as well as the customization and user-preference issues, by allowing each individual to ``own'' his or her own ``bits'', as well as to set forth and customize the protocol for interacting with the world.

The GPS navigator makes the car more intelligent, but at the same time and (by his own admission) Weinberger dumber: He now has even less sense of place than he used to have.
There are a number of borderline cases of interest: Wearing a cell phone means you always have your personal phone directory with you, so you stop trying to remember phone numbers. So you're a bit dumber, but maybe in a good way: You really didn't want to know the phone number in the first place, you just wanted a connection established with someone. I don't think knowledge of physical space is a good candidate for this kind of reduction.

Posted by Claus at January 11, 2004 11:57 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments (post your own)

What do you mean by "[not a] good candidate" - that it will not happen, or that it will unfortunately happen"?

When technology externalizes a personal and previously internal skill, the human mind will 'forget'.
Writing as a technology had the same effect on human memory. In his book "Orality and Literacy" Walter J. Ong states that writing restructures conciousness.

Summarizing review here: http://www.engl.niu.edu/wac/ong_rvw.html

Posted by: dalager on January 11, 2004 1:06 PM

That it will unfortunately happen.
Having a "sense of place" is to my mind a deep experience that starts as wayfinding but ends up carrying much more information. Space is an important frame of reference in better appreciating all kinds of phenomena, certainly books, music, art, film.

Posted by: Dee on January 11, 2004 9:58 PM

I agree. But isn't this spatial disconnection a continuing evolution that has been going on for centuries?
Of course the invention of "turn left in 400 m" has taken it to the next level...

Posted by: dalager on January 12, 2004 10:03 AM

I am sure you are right on that issue. Roads and maps started the disconnect, since symbolic space is never as rich in meaning as physical space, and roads tend to turn landscape into symbolic conduit.

You might enjoy, as a supplement to this discussion, to read an interview with Per Aage Brandt in the sofar only issue of UCmag. Brandt talks about the difference between "designed objects" and the natural world. Turns out our perception of designed objects is completely different from our perception of the natural world, and the difference is exactly a reduction to function or the artifacts. That function is either a "pure" function, i.e. the objects become invisible as tools, or a sign function, the objects are evidence of something else (e.g. their user or creator).
Roads and maps turn space into a designed object.

The interview is available in the pdf copy of UCMag at http://www.ucmag.dk/res/ucmag.pdf

Posted by: Dee on January 12, 2004 10:32 AM
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