Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 09, 2012
The internet as memory

Besides online and computer role-playing games, I am still actively playing pen & paper games. I've been playing with the same group and dungeon master for many years now. Recently I've been asked whether I would be willing to be dungeon master for one adventure, while our regular DM recovers his creative spirits. Having done a lot of dungeon mastering at university, I agreed. So I was thinking of an adventure I led about 20 years ago, from a magazine. I remembered the basic outline, which would fit in our campaign, but very few of the details. So armed with just some keywords, I searched Google. And to my surprise I was not only able to find that adventure module, but even download it pdf format.

That made me realize that every film I ever saw, every book I ever read, many magazines, and every online discussion I ever had, are archived somewhere on the internet. At the moment in a form that most of the time doesn't link back to me, but if we follow the ideas of Facebook and similar social media, in the future it will even be marked on your "timeline" which book you read or which film you watched when.

While being able to find back old role-playing modules is certainly useful, I find the general concept of the internet as memory somewhat scary. We are formed by what we read and watch, it constitutes our cultural background. Today the internet only makes it clear that we are far from being unique snowflakes, that thousands if not millions of other people have similar cultural backgrounds. In the future we are being menaced with one step further, that there is a complete archive of this background. Again some people might find that useful in researching "what was the name of that film again?" or similar questions. But it also opens up our cultural background to scrutiny of others, from advertisers to the government. How long until every film or TV show we watch, every electronic book or magazine we read is automatically inscribed upon such a timeline? Already Amazon recommends books and films to me based on my previous purchases (a feature that got horribly confused when I ordered a book for a friend with very different interests). How long until other advertisers target you based on a social media timeline, or the books you read land you on the governmental no-fly list? Are we all becoming men of glass?
The much-vaunted universal memory aspect of the Internet is overrated. Yes, you can find a lot of stuff there that used to be harder to find, but I have a few things I search for now and again than turn up either nothing at all or nothing of any use.

Try finding out who the band was that I saw at University who played a song I've never forgotten, "Invasion of the Italian Boyfriends". Or a PDF download, legal or otherwise, of any of Freda Hurt's "Mr Twink" cat detective novels, currently selling for anywhere north of £400 each on the collector market.

That said, I have been able to find quite a lot of stuff that i thought I'd never see again. Some of it turns out not to have been all I remembered, though, so even that's a mixed blessing.
I think transparency is a good thing in public service, and to an extent for private citizens. But there should be an opt out.

Putting my business hat on, I think the next fad technologies will be the ones that re-emphasize privacy. If Facebook and Twitter are used by, say for sake of argument, 20% of all possible adopters today, then to capture the hearts of the other 80%, a company needs to be different. And in how they treat privacy is how I think it needs to be different to provide a useful and valuable service.

Early adopters shape perception, but reality is that unless you transact on the Internet (e.g., buy a book, or publish content on Tumblr), the Internet only knows what is freely and publicly available despite the Internet itself. To get proper mass appeal, a shift has to happen. Thus, I believe market forces will push us to a different future than you describe.
They say that from age 10-30 new technologies away appears as a chance and something wonderful and exciting. From age 30-50 new technologies are something you deal with. But age 50+ new technologies appear to be a violation of the natural order.

And here's the scary part: just because you read and maybe understand and believe these lines doesn't mean you are immune.
Eventually the Internet will be a part of our memory.

...Read up on Cochlear implants (both ear and eye). They convert sounds or image data directly into electronic signals that the brain then converts back into sound or an image (learning curve required of course).

I'd guess in another 20-40 years they'll have tiny-winy little ports connected directly to our brain where we connect to hard drives for the same types of data-searches.

and to keep rambling...

About the same time they make brain scanners small enough and portable enough that we can just think the key-words (scanners can already reconstruct very rough digital images of faces and objects we're thinking about) to provide us a mental input for the keywords to be searched (which tosses keyboards and external input devices out the window).

...and then they hook all that up to wi-fi...and Facebook2050 is all just in our heads.
It should be scary to you. That's one reason I NEVER enter anything into Facebook. Unless you want something to follow you your entire life don't put it on paper or a computer site.

Remember that everything you say and do can and WILL be used against you.
The right to privacy is fast disappearing. In its place is the right to be data-mined and exploited as a digital consumer.
So what was the module/adventure?
Not saying. My fellow players read this blog. :)
I am generally delighted to use the internet as a substitute for my own increasingly flaky memory. I have long realised that me plus wikipedia is a smarter more capable person than me on my own. After all humans haven't been fully defined by the limits of their own heads since we left the trees. Hand signals, speech and scratches on rocks are all ways to extend our mind out to the external world. The internet is just the next step in that process. The current trend of trying to compartmentalise the internet may slow things for a few years but I don't think we can ever go back.

If all that doesn't convince you look at the recent research showing brain function declines after 45. We old timers need all the help we can get.
Tobold, have you ever read the comic Knights of the Dinner Table? Reading this post reminds me of the time I used to do pen and paper D&D.....and now the only fix i get is by reading these.
Please do share the module (at least the name) after you've run its course, if you can remember to do so. I'm curious, too.
Having Internet access while GMing can be a real boon - you can search for that obscure rule / spell / item etc and usually find a reference online.

That is heaps better than trying to remember which of the many books (bought years ago) it appears in.

I still find PnP gaming better than any computer game, but having computers around can make it easier to run!
The late great author Douglas Adams spoke at a mid-90s JavaOne computer conference. He pointed out that the Palm handheld had the computing power of the state of the art supercomputer of a couple of decades ago. And that we were not that far away from where your personal device could record essentially everything you ever saw/heard.

Great for many reasons including trivia. But many relationships and jobs could be extra stressful if Siri could search everything you ever told someone.

This is a somewhat different axis than solvogero - the digital knowledge will be a surrogate of our memory/knowledge. But also that our own experiences will be able to be recorded and eventually scanned an searched.

An always on Siri could in the morning hear your spouse tell you to pick up milk, put it on the calendar and then remind you if you get near home without it.
If you mark the book you purchased for your friend as a gift, it won't be used in your recommendations. I personally like the setting; I've found a lot of great new book series because of it.
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