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?