"My name is Jimmy Smith, I live on Cable street, in the city of Burtonville, in county of Burton County, in the state of Nebraska, in the country of the U.S.A, on the continent of North America, on the planet earth, in the Solar system in the Milky Way."
For an 8 year old, it was a magnificent act of scaling. But that was usually the end of it. Elementary school was not there to encourage kids to climb (or rappell) hierarchies of knowledge. The world, after all, was flat.
Hierarchical mobility was restored, a few years ago, by Google maps. Now we could go from a view of North America to our house in one fluid motion. But once we had scaled up and down a couple of times, the thrill was gone. We were by this time self policing. (Education, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.)
Enter a new Microsoft program called Photosynth. This allows us to navigate multi-scale media in new ways. At TED this year, Blaise Aguera y Arcas gave a breathtaking demonstration. (I wasn’t there to see it in person. Thanks to The Very Short List, I found the TED video today. See below.)
Blaise Aguera y Arcas showed the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. It was build up out of many hundreds of photos taken with every kind of camera, capturing every aspect of Notre Dame large and small. Photosynth had put them all together again and made them navigable.
For social networking purposes, the most interesting thing about Photosynth is that it allows photo tags to migrate. If someone has named the figures on the Notre Dame cathedral, this information is available in my photos, too. This means that my photos of Notre Dame just got smarter, and the memories they evoke just got richer. To the extent that these photos are my memory, my past is now more substantial in ways it wasn’t before. Everything ends up being co-locational not just in space but between people.
In effect, tags and texts end up giving me perspectival information as, or more, interesting than the photos themselves. They become an opportunity to build collective memories as good or better than the memories we construct for ourselves. And this suggests an internet that contains collective emotional and intellectual resources.
More and more of our internal operations are being off loaded into cyberspace. That memory should be one of them feels wrong, because memory is perhaps the most personal and authenticating of our internal faculties. But it is not difficult to imagine a time when the the "memory of crowds" might be the best memory of all.
Blaise Aguera y Arcas. 2007. Photosynth demo. Ted: Ideas worth spreading. Filmed March. Posted May. here.
Thanks to VSL (Very Short List) for the head’s up. Go here to sign up for this excellent service.