Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Tag: memory (page 2 of 2)

The fun fair of bookmarks

I just got back from a family vacation in Disneyland. Having spent more time on rides than I want to think about, and less time doing actual productive work (I know that vacations are supposed to be when you completely unplug; sue me), I was naturally tickled to see this post by Ophelia comparing old browser bookmarks to carnival attractions.

How many bookmarks do you have? I have over 10 folders and each one holds an average of 100 bookmarks. These have been gathered over the last 8 years. I have even more on my other laptops that I had not transferred over, just because I wanted to start fresh with each new computer. Going back and looking at those bookmarks is like a walk back in time, a road map backwards and as I scroll through, I can see the burning heaps alongside the road….

Why haven’t I gone back and visited those sites? Probably the same reasons I don’t go to fun fair carnivals that set up for a day. At night the carnivals are a thing of beauty, the sparkling lights, the smell of popcorn, and the booming music coming from each ride is a lure to buy a book of tickets. I am a sucker for anything flashy and I will try each ride, but after the quick thrill I am done. I could ride the most exciting rides again, but I already know what is going to happen, when it will break to the right or drop suddenly, a sense of ennui sets in. My bookmark folders are Fun Fair carnivals filled with exciting rides that I have ridden once. My reasons why can be explained by using the carnival ride analogy.

Picture-taking then and now

I’ve taken several hundred more pictures today, of the ride up to Oxford, Oxford itself, and the ride back to London.

It struck me this morning that I lived for about three years in Brazil when I was a child… and we have maybe a dozen pictures from those years. [Update 2010: there’s more of them, and I put them on Flickr.]

The brilliant thing about digital cameras is that you can take massive numbers of pictures, with virtually zero additional marginal cost. Since they’re downloaded rather than developed, and since a 1 GB flash card can hold several hundred pictures, both the economics of picture-taking and the capabilities are completely different now than when I was young (or when I went to Korea in 1998 with an APS camera). When I’m on the road, I take pictures of interesting fixtures, stuff out the window, birds in the distance, completely ordinary yet striking stuff.

Of course, a lot of those pictures turn out to be worthless. But some of them come out, and when you’re talking about a percentage of thousands of pictures, the number of worthwhile pictures can become quite large. I’ll bet when I was young, we took pictures when there were special events, or pictures of each other in some really interesting place. But I’m sure there were no pictures of hotel rooms or breakfasts, except by accident.

I wonder if my kids will do every day what I just do when I’m traveling, or when I’m with them: take picture of perfectly everyday stuff, and assume they’ll be able to sort through them for what’s interesting, and come back to them later when they see potential new value in what had been unremarkable pictures.

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