Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Allure of Memex vs. The Tethered Self

Dodge & Kitchin's "Ethics of Forgetting" piece, which describes Vannevar Bush's 1945 work "Memex," correlated well with Sherry Turkle's "The Tethered Self."

The Memex is "a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged initimate supplement to his memory" (p. 7).

I felt as though Dodge and Kitchin held a favorable opinion toward the Memex, and cite several real-life benefits of the fictional device: enhance workplace productivity and enjoyment of everyday life, enhance memory recall for the elderly or the ill, and allow people to monitor their health conditions and many other aspects of their lives.

I wonder, though--and I'm thinking from Turkle's point of view here--if a complete digest of every minute detail that a person has ever done, available for recall at any moment, would truly benefit the quality of their life. Turkle does point out that younger people, namely teenagers, find a sense of comfort and belonging with living a tethered life. Adults, on the other hand, feel increasingly stressed and dismayed at being constantly tethered to work and media devices.

I think that a great distinguishing factor in Turkle's finding is that adults are saddled with many additional responsibilities which are increasingly being encroached upon by media. These responsibilities are usually distinct to adults: parenthood, work, debt and money management, etc.

In my opinion, I feel that the Memex would greatly exacerbate employee stress, and would decrease workplace productivity, not increase it, as Dodge and Kitchin assert. After all, you don't need direct playback of a fun family event or meaningful life stage to remember that you enjoyed it.

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