A Canadian First? Tweeting the Olympics

I watched the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympic games tonight, or half watched it.  While one half of me was wrapped up in the celebration of aboriginal culture, images of prairie wheat fields,  falling red maple leaves, our music,  our spoken and aerial poetry and the drama of failed olympic torch hydraulics the other half was participating in amusing, cynical, insightful and sometimes inappropriate twitter commentary with a whole lot of people.

It is telling that as the ceremony wound down and as twitter people said their goodnights, several said that the twitter stream was the highlight.  Some didn’t even watch the ceremony but followed the tweet stream instead.  I am not certain that twitter was around during the Beijing Olympics but I am pretty certain that it is the first Twitter winter olympics.  Yay Canada!

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How my brain and the internet are working together

I was looking at Bill Cheswick’s map of the internet.  This is the map that plots the number of connections between operating systems on the internet and creates an image of those connections and there are billions of connections and counting.  I have to say that the map looks like a brain with all its pathways and even two distinct hemispheres.  I am certainly not the first or the only person to make that observation.  Clay Shirkey noted in a recent TED talks video that the number of connections represented on Cheswicks internet map is approach the number of neural connections in the human brain.  What fascinates me about the analogy between the  human brain and the Internet is that it speaks to a deeper reality.  The internet is, to take HG Wells term, becoming the world’s brain or at least can be argued that it is.

If  the Internet is the world brain then it has to have the functions of the human brain and it does have many,  for instance, the internet has long-term memory, increasingly has short term memory and the capacity to make connections or synthesize new information at incredible speed. It also has computational power of course as well as sensory centres and a recall function ie Google.  Before this creates images in peoples minds of a self-conscious Skynet waking up one day (i think its 2010) and deciding to eradicate us messy humans, i would concede briefly that this analogy of internet as world brain lacks one fundamental characteristic.  The Internet doesn’t have consciousness.  What’s missing in all of this is the ghost in the machine.  Or is it lacking?

If the internet is considered to be wires and boxes and memory blades then no the Internet is not a world brain.  But what is interesting here is that if you broaden the conception of the internet to an ecosystem then there IS a ghost in the machine,  in fact millions and millions of humans who interact daily, add knowledge and information and communicate through these pathways.  At the core of this argument is that we are the technology, that the internet is an extension of our cognitive communications and social selves.

So when critics of the internet raise concerns about our loss of mental capability such as attention span the ability to think deeply or  memorize.  The response is that we are adapting and in fact merging our neural nets with the internet.  We dont need to have these functions in each of us because we can extend our neural nets outside of ourselves and access all of this in the world brain.  When it comes right down to it we are the intenet.

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Playing with Dragon

One of the brainwaves i had for producing a blog a day with a minimum of effort was to rely on labour saving technology. I have been waiting for the release the dragon dictation iphone app, available several weeks ago in the US and as i learned last night at a wedding reception/iphone party just released in Canada.

I downloaded the free app and these are the results of the third attempt reciting the first 2 sentences of this blog ( it seems that the results are improving with each try) I think it has real potential:

One of the brainless I have for producing a blog again with the minimum effort must rely on labor city sending technology I have been waiting for the release of dragon dictation on phone available several weeks ago in the US and as I learned last night at a wedding reception/iPhone party just released in Canada.

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Cheat blog #1

So far I have written 6 blog posts in 8 days.  This is actually pretty good for someone who is a born procrastinator.  If my calculations are correct it also means that at this rate I am going to be publishing 90+ posts on december 31 2010 if i am going to meet my blog-a-day commitment.  No worries that’s in the future.

So not having anything else ready to post i thought i would cheat by talking about the experience of writing a blog so far.  This may seem egoistic and a little bit desperate but i am a philosopher by training and there is a time honoured tradition of sitting around and self reflecting on all kinds of topics, psychology for example, or metaphysics, or if you were Descartes thinking about thinking. ( I am sure at some point Descartes had to be thinking about if he really existed when he wasn’t thinking.)

Blog Post Digression

Descartes at a Party: A one act play

(Descartes is standing in a crowded ballroom, stage left with a cup of mead and a canape thinking about if he really existed when he wasn’t thinking, he shrugs his shoulders and spills drink on french royal personage)

French Royal Personage: Merde! you fop,  you’ve spilled a drink on us!

Descarte: Sorry I wasn’t thinking (Descartes disappears in a flash of light as he resumes not thinking)

The end

So 10 bucks or if youre in ottawa a pitcher of beer to anyone whose read this far and can tell me the conceptual/metaphysical error with my first play.

Blog observations

Writing a ‘daily’ blog under these time constraints has meant reading more and then rapidly assembling what has been read into a few paragraphs.  One of the things about google, wikis and blogs is that i can within the space of half an hour research a topic and come off sounding informed.  But can my 30 minute scan of several sources on Nietzche’s typewriter yield useful observations that are grounded in reliable information?  Maybe it wouldn’t matter at all if this was a personal diary but my blog is accessible to the world via google.

By writing my 6 blog posts I have added to a world knowledge base my own points of view bad or good,  interesting or boring, insightful or off the mark and these blog posts will be read by a few people over time,  and, it could be a very long time.  I am not sure what will be done with blogspot or wordpress or any other tools as time passes but i cant help but think that these will be preserved as an essential history of the internet.

Maybe a thousand years from now some “world brain” archivist or  archeologist of knowledge will read my post and find some useful historical insight or be completely misdirected by it.  If that is the case then “hey there” and or “oops sorry”.

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The world brain

I was browsing through wikipedia today looking for something about shared knowledge bases and came across an this wiki article on the “world brain”, an idea described by HG Wells in the late 30s as an encyclopedia of encyclopedias, accessible to all human kind.  Here is an excerpt from the wikipage:

The world brain is “…a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared.” Wells felt that technological advances such as microfilm could be used towards this end so that “any student, in any part of the world, will be able to sit with his projector in his own study at his or her convenience to examine any book, any document, in an exact replica.” A similar view of an automated system for making all of humanity’s knowledge available to all had been proposed a few years earlier by Paul Otlet, one of the founders of information science.

Aside from drawing the obvious conclusion that HG Wells was describing if not predicting something like Wikipedia it is also intriguing to note that the excerpt also refers to Paul Otlet one of the founders of information science who posited a similar idea.  Two noted individuals from the early part of the 20th century,  one a science fiction writer and futurist and the other a “librarian” both articulating this idea of universal knowledge.  I don’t wonder what they would think of Google.

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The 140 character attention span

Are social media changing the way we think and write?  Oh yes they are.  Is it a good or bad thing?  According to commentators concerned with their impact we are losing our capacity to reflect and to think deeply.  Growing volumes and velocity of information are forcing us to adapt from reading to scanning,  from thinking through complex issues to assembling bits of information on the fly  and from diving deeply into ideas to skittering along their surface.  I am sure at their darker moments critics imagine our children evolving in to a society with ADD, poor memories and a fascination with pop culture (or to carry this way too far, saucer sized eyes, distorted thumbs and large bottoms)

There is probably truth in this…all of it. I certainly see tell tales signs in me…some of it.   At the same time this critique completely ignores one of the most powerful and compelling aspects of social media.  They are social.  Users of these tools are contributing to and drawing from an open and shared social network and social memory. While we may individually provide superficial and bite sized bits of knowledge the sum of all our contributions more than compensates for any one person’s lack of deep analysis.  To take a metaphor from my tech friends we have gone from stand alone computers to massive parallel processing systems where large complex problems are broken down into smaller ones and solved.  Crowdsourcing might be another word for it.

So is the impact of social media a good or a bad thing.  Its just reality, and we are adapting to it.  But if there is anything about the new social media that is obvious and fundamental its that we are not alone, we share collectively in a deepening ocean of knowledge and we are all becoming sailors, some a little more seasick than others.

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Thus clack clackity scheisse! clacked Zarathustra

Towards the end of his life Frederick Nietzsche’s bought a typewriter. The philosopher’s vision was failing and he needed a tool to help him continue his work. According to academics, Nietzsche’s use of the typewriter had a profound effect on his writing and his philosophy. His early works were long form prose, his later works “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.” (twitter style?). Nietzsche himself felt that the “apparatus” played a part in the forming of his thoughts and some of his most influencial works: Thus Spake Zarathustra and the Will to Power were written during this period. (@AJKeen remix)

This is a compelling and fascinating argument that i really want to believe but after more ‘research’ (a google search two blog posts and a wikipedia page) i found out that Neitzche unknowingly bought a damaged typewriter and when he took it to a craftsman to improve it, the machine was damaged further. He eventually abandoned this new technology out of frustration.

So while i want to, and do believe that the technology we use influences our writing and our consciousness and that we can draw all kinds of parallels with social media one of the most significant i can draw from this story is that Neitzche had lousy tech support and an angry frustrated philosopher can change the world.

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