The Google Effect of life, my digital storytelling

Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, and the things you never want to lose.

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Ever since I can remember right before dawn, my nan would take my little hands between hers and we would walk outside where she would pull up a chair, and I would lie on top of her with my little pale legs sticking out the side.  She always had a different story to tell.

I remember the story of Joao de Barro; John of mud, an elderly man who had nothing, and yet when poverty hit he helped others to build houses made out of mud facing the sun, so they too would always remember there is light. This taught me simplicity and humbleness. She told me the story of Amor; Love. A tale of  how the sun and the moon fell deeply in love, but their love did not agree with the rest of the universe, and although this meant they would be separated, the rest of the world would be showered with light, warmth and love, and so I learnt that not everything works out in our favour, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for the better. Between those there was many others, I remember them so vividly that it is as if I can hear her voice whispering them in my ear as I write.

Now our worlds are kilometers apart and every Sunday night when I call my little old lady, right before we hang up she always asks me the same question: ‘Tell me Moara, do you still remember that story I used to tell you…?’.

Being so far away from your family places a great deal of pressure in our minds, in our memories. We tend to dwell on the past and that is why remembering is so important. When we packed our entire lives into seven boxes before shipping them off to Australia, I remember my mum writing FRAGILE in big red letters all around one box, just that one box. I asked her if that’s where she had placed by barbie dolls, she smiled and she said yes, along with all of our photo albums. Now I understand that it was the most fragile box of all, it contained things far too previous to forget.

As I sit here and think about how much things have changed, I swipe through my phone that I hold so close and so tight to me, because heaven forbid that my little portable box gets scratched, cracked or wet, it  too contains many of my precious memories.

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So why is it that I don’t need to look back each day through my photo albums to know exactly what the photos look like, and why is it I can quote my nan’s tales word for word, and yet I sit here and scroll through the same old photos and information I have stored on my iPhone like it is new? My 84 year old nan remembers everything about everyone, phone numbers, recipes and birthdays, and so did I at one stage, so has our capacity to remember been reduced by technology?

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If I were to present my nan with a brand new iPad and teach her how to join Facebook and surf the web, would I start seeing early signs of dementia on her? Turns out I’m not far from the truth! It’s called the Google Effect.

Is our brain a permanent complete archive we seem to think it is? Whether the internet is a solid functional archive or not we have a tendency to treat it like it is. We upload our thoughts, appointments, documents, we google facts we need instantly, we treat it like this off board extension of our minds. So how is leaning on the internet changing our actual memory?

Intense internet usage is making our brain better at multitasking and quick decision making – Hebbs rule – the more you work on an area, the stronger it gets. Cells that fire together, wire together!

Are we trading off some cognitive skills in the process or just growing into humanity?

Brain = Computer
Computer = Hard drive
Hard drive = Full
Brain = Full?

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If we are using our brains as a hard drive, is it possible that we will eventually run out of room? We believe that we are freeing up our memories for more important things, but I feel like we definitely haven’t reached our full memory capacity, if that’s even a possibility.

According to Nelson Cowan – University of Missouri ‘The magical mystery four: How is working memory capacity limited, why?’ Our brain has a billion neurons and each of those connects to a thousand of its neighbours, they all help each other to store multiple memories, so it’s really not the long term memory we need to worry about. It feels like we are freeing up space in our brains because we are taking things out of our short term memory, which he explains can only hold 2-4 things at a time, however, not leaving things there stops it from converting them into a long term memory.

It’s that feeling of short term overload that’s really letting the internet affect us. When we are writing an essay and checking the internet, Facebook, Tweeter, getting an email, well that’s our four things limit. We are always putting ourselves into a place where we are overloading and swapping things into that short term memory.

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Cognitive scientist Torkel Klinberg explains in The over flowing brain – Information overload and the limits of working memory that when we are operating at full capacity our brain finds destruction exponentially more destructing, so the more we are bouncing around from page to page, thing to thing online, the more likely we are to leave those things behind for something new, and none of that leads to the process of important information. If we don’t process it, we don’t remember it.

The concern here is that because of the internet we are wiring our brains to constantly scan for information without taking it in, losing our ability for long term memorization.

This great video give us a short demonstration of transactive memory:

Transactive memory is essentially using our friends and family as reference materials to remember things for us. Google is our global transactive friend for everything.

Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips: Columbia University study published in a science magazine, showed two groups of people a list of facts to memorise, they told one group that the file with the list would be deleted later and said nothing to the second group. The group that thought the file had been deleted remembered more facts than the group who was unaware of it. In a secondary test, people were told the facts and then showed what folder they were in on a hard drive. People were more likely to remember the folder location than the actual facts and that goes back to the brain restructure the above Youtube video talks about. We are getting better at finding and organizing but potentially worse at deep focus.

As I ponder over all the overload of information I have just retrieved while researching, I think of my nan, a lady wise as time, and how she came to learn everything she knows today and passed on her wisdom to me and I have now shared some of that with you, (my readers), but will google pass on all of this to my kids in a swipe of a finger? And if so, when we are gone and all that is left are highly tech-savvy humans to run the world, they will pose the search of the questions, but who will do the answering?

We do not remember days, we remember moments. The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.” – Cesare Pavese

BCM240… I did it!

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BCM240 introduced me to ways in which media audiences have been constructed and analysed since the early twentieth century. Throughout this semester, we’ve examined the history of industry and theoretical assumptions about audience motivation, behaviour and experience. We’ve looked at alternatives to theories of reception and consumption, including the concept of the media user as media producer, and perhaps most importantly, used a range of different creative tools to explore and represent the importance of space, place and locality to our understanding of media practice.

Week one of blogging to me, was very important because it allowed me to gain a sense of space inside the media world, I began to understand what it all meant to be part of something never ending. Looking back at my first post Loading…  readers can see how overwhelmed I was by so much information and technology that become available to me. Even more important was what I came across on my week one reading topics  where Doreen Massey talks about the process through which one learns interview. Of never disposing of an idea, but rather reformulate them. I began to write down everything, the necessary and unnecessary to recycle later. What stood out to me the most and I feel is evident in all my blog posts was Doreen Massey questioning/reforming our belonging to a landscape to that of whether a landscape belong to us. Not only in BCM240 but throughout my entire blog, this is an ongoing question of belonging that I ask myself all the time.

A guide to collaborative ethnography was probably the most influential reading for me. It allowed me to fully understand the concept of studying people and really understanding what it was like to be someone other than me. It put space and media a little bit more in perspective for me because I began to take into consideration all aspects of individuals in order to further my knowledge about them. This also outlined the importance of collaborative work and how both the author and the audience benefit from collaborating, perhaps in ways that we didn’t even know we would. I feel that out of all my blog posts, All the different channels of life  and Ethnology, it matters! Where my two favourites and most meaningful.

Sherry Tuckle’s connected, but alone? TED talk was incredible and on our week’s topic of domestic broadband changing the way we understand the experience and meaning of home, or (reforming the question here) is this a continuation of earlier technological impacts on place? I was once again shocked to find just how much was going on in the space and media around me that I had been clearly missing all this time. All these discoveries were recorded on my Weaving the Web post  where I explored my mother’s way of life with a Sherry Tuckle’s perspective. Although I did not blog about measuring the audience in week three, ‘Media consumption or ‘audiencing’ can only be understood as part of a practice that is not itself about the media … ‘, Nick Couldry, ‘Theorising Media as Practice’, Social Semiotics, 14:2, pp.115-132 now made perfect sense to me as I had to step out of the media scope in order to understand what it meant to m famil and I. I then began to apply this theory to my everyday studies of media, audience and place.

For week five Once upon a movie… I decided to blog about an even that happened in my life where both Michel Foucault’s heterotopia and  Hägerstrand’s time geography theory took place, by taking my Aunt to the movies. I feel that in this blog piece I was more specific to details about my aunt to show the various categories of group she fell into, as well as a lot of detail of our geographical journey to our final destination which at the end, didn’t end up mattering.

As the next weeks approached, I felt that regardless of the topic being discussed, I was starting to apply all the concepts of media and space that I had previously learned with this subject to my everyday activities, I began to stop and observe people and how they were interacting with technology and with each other. I began to take notice what it meant by being in the public eye, question things like privacy and consent and freedom.

Looking back through my blog posts now, I feel that by learning how to use collaborative ethnography, it gave me the key I needed to be able to better communicate with my family, allowing me to travel back in time and re-live those days, gaining information to what media and space was like back then. Not only was this very influential to me as a person, learning about my history, I also saw the importance that we as writers, communicators, ethnographers have in our audience. I hope that this was evident throughout my blog, how much I enjoyed writing it and connecting it to what was my own understanding of all the lectures and theories I have uncovered this semester.

Although I did not blog about all the things I learnt and ideas I developed (I could write a book…volumes) BCM240 helped me to grasp media audience theory with an understanding of its current issues, their contexts and developments over time. I am now able to engage media with new ideas and ways of thinking. I can better critically analyse issues being exposed, better acknowledge the work and ideas of others and convey them effectively using a variety of modes. Writing my blog in particular helped me to recognize how cultures can shape communication. I am now more aware of how different decisions affect different people, thus learning to make ethically informed choices. Appreciating and respecting diversity even more and acting as part of local, national and global professional blogs.

By completing this subject, I hope that my blog was able to demonstrate my understanding of key theories of media user experience as they change over time.  I hope they will show that I can apply ideas about space and place to the experiences of the media audience and my own. I am now capable of extending my capacity for writing for online readership, and will be able to demonstrate my ability by creating my digital storytelling portfolio (coming soon…) to examine the ways in which space and place shape the practices of media users like me.

Excuse me, can I use your photo on my blog?

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For one of my journalism subjects last semester, I was asked to go around campus (Wollongong) and take a photo of things that stood out for me, things that constructed my mind about ‘uni life’.

Uni life to me, consists of bean bags, food, uni bar, angry ducks, printer queues, stairs, coffee, lots of coffee and bare feet (yes, I am a creative arts student). So how was I going to capture all of that in one shot?  As I walked around the pond I came face to face with the perfect scenery. On my left I had a girl sitting on the grass, mid bite through an apple, with bare feet! In front of me, a girl laying on the grass sun baking with TWO cups of coffee, I had three ducks goosing around, and just in time for my shot I turned around to perfect the angle and boom, there was uni bar in the background, I felt this might be a heaven sign for a career change into photography.

The photo was edited – because even Johnny Depp looks better with a filter – and uploaded on to my very public blog. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I found myself on the grass, mid bite through my chocolate cake and bare feet, watching other students with cameras capturing their ‘uni life’ moment that I realized that maybe I didn’t want my photo taken and uploaded into someone else’s blog, facebook or anywhere for that matter. I might have been picture perfect for them but I had messy hair, no make up, chocolate on my white shirt and my toe nails were half painted (it was a Monday). This made me feel so uncomfortable about having taken the photo those previous weeks, how did I not consider asking for consent?

Sure its art, but do we have the right to make people uncomfortable for art? I started thinking about the fine line we might cross as artists, as ethnographers, as everyday people. Does being in a public sphere automatically decrease our right to privacy?

We gain, or in most cases lessen, the level of ownership over ourselves when entering places. We are constantly being filmed or watched to insure we behave accordantly. While choosing to do basic things such as shopping, we are entering an invisible agreement where we allow all types of personal information to be displayed. What time I entered a premises, what I bought, what I wore, how I paid. These are everyday things that we are perhaps unaware of, and sure enough they don’t bother most people.  I don’t remember the last time I felt that my privacy had been breached in a shopping centre, if anything made me feel saver knowing someone, somewhere is watching me.

But what about a park? An university campus? Would I be more cautious of my actions if I thought someone was watching me? For whatever reason? Would my actions change?

I am the first one to put my hand up and argue that art cannot be forced. Asking someone to pose does not always deliver the same depth of a spontaneous picture. Perhaps being exposed to a controlled world gives us the false sense that we too are in titled to exposure.

By no way or mean do I write this post as a discouragement to other artists to stop exploring the hidden beauty that we humans are. I understand the act of asking for consent is not always ideal, but perhaps, engage with the person you are admiring and put yourself in their shoes. We as artist are sure to find another creative way of resembling the same picture without breaching any privacy.

What I’ve learnt this week, is how to open my mind and minimize the risk of singling a person out. Focusing on other details such as hands, movements, distances will make it easier for us to use it later in a public space, after all anyone makes a beautiful story.

Once upon a movie…

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Here is a little something you need to know about my aunty. She is a fantastic person, she has read every book in the library, learnt French without ever taking any lessons, she knows everything about everything, but she doesn’t leave the house. Her biggest fear in life is getting lost and this causes her massive panic attacks. She cared for my uncle for ten years as he was bed bound. In those ten years she only ever left the house in small periods of 30-45 minutes where she would visit my grandparents and go to the bank, the only two things she could not do over the internet. This began by her fearing that he would fall or need something while she wasn’t there, and after a while she began to notice the world changing out there and how she was not a part of it, so year by year she left the house even less.

With my uncle sadly passing away, my aunty became overwhelmed with so much free time in her life. It wasn’t until I went to visit that anyone had invited her to do something a little extraordinary, like going to the movies.

The funny thing here is that we probably had more fun trying to get there than we actually did watching the movie. Only knowing how to drive from her house to my nan’s house and back, and me having spent the last few years growing up in Australia, made getting there a little more complicated. Just putting it out there, the town where I am from in Brazil is as big as the Wollongong campus and that’s it.

We decided it would be best to print out a map directing us straight there, due to google maps unfortunately not working in either of our smart phones.

The journey that was meant to take exactly seven minutes, ended up taking twenty five. She didn’t care, neither did I. Of course we missed the first turn of the map because being as sophisticated as I am, I waited for the paper in my hands to tell me to turn right in five hundred meters and, of course it didn’t. From then on we kept guessing the way by judging places and houses that looked familiar, but the entire town looked familiar…we saw it every day!

It was probably the funniest  day we had both had in a long time. By the time we got to the movies we had missed our session, we bought the later one instead, some popcorn and sat out the front eating it as if it were the old times. My aunty began to tell me about the first time she had ever been to the movies and how magnificent it all was, and now forty-five years later she was having the same feeling, butterflies in her stomach and just as excited as she was when she was ten.

Hagestrand might have put it in technical terms, but I will put it in my own, the geographical journey is just as important, if not more than the destination itself.

Weaving the Web

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A lot like Sherry Turkle from her brilliant connected, but alone? TED talk, my mother is a psychologist but also a total hippie who places a flower on top of the microwave to reduce electronic waves being transmitted, charges her phone down the stairs so she doesn’t develop brain cancer, fights with me for having my phone on the table, yet has her iPad attached to her hip.

I’ve always found my mum to be quite contradictory to her own demands, but she is a mum after all right? (Do what I say, not what I do type of thing). However, Sherry’s talk made me realise that perhaps my mum doesn’t know that she is in fact paradoxical to her own believes.

My mum takes comfort in knowing that she is not using the internet to alienate herself but rather to help others to connect again, to do better and be better. She only shares links to greater goods of charities, budda quotes, she shares videos of the homeless being fed and animals being rescued, she tags her friends in friendship memes and posts hundreds of photos inviting internet users to go outside. So does that make it okay for her ‘right’ use of the internet?

I started thinking about Black-and-White Mary, a philosophy by a property dualist that believes that physicalist and functionalist stories about the mind cannot capture the qualitative features of experience. Ideology plays a great role in technology because it controls the information being given, it manipulates us into thinking we are feeling something when in reality, we are not. Are we beginning to exchange the real emotional for the fictional?

My mum feels it is okay for her to spend her time online because she has already experienced things that I have not, she wants me to live in the present and she is encouraging others to do the same by living in her past and sharing her thoughts online now. That may be why my grandparents refuse to learn about the internet, or why they would most likely reject the idea of the sociable robots that Sherry refers to, because in reality it would be like telling them we don’t have the time or patience to sit and talk to them now, but here is something to take your mind of it.

In truth we do turn to technology when we are most vulnerable, and this is where we start to lose our intimacy because we believe that we can turn our attention wherever we want and divert our thoughts and feelings. It’s not always because we post something on Facebook that we are heard, and that will make us feel even more unnoticed. So I applaud my mother and my grandparents for having raised me in a house that encourages me to share my problems with them, not with the web. I admire my grandparents for not being scared of being lonely, embracing the fact that they don’t need technology to feel happy and connected, sure a visit or two would be good, but sometimes it doesn’t happen they get it, they just rather experience things for themselves rather than over a screen.

‘Write me a letter that I can keep, that I can drip coffee on and smell the dust when I pull it out in a few years, I want to read your handwriting and picture you thinking about what to write. Anyone can buy the internet but not everyone can buy my thoughts’ – Terezina Marcucci, 85 year old grandmother and best woman I know.

Ethnology… It matters!

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Let me just start by admitting that prior to this BCM240 class/lecture/reading I had absolutely no idea what collaborative ethnography was or how it could ever work in my favour. A week later and it’s all I can think and talk about.

So what is ethnography?

The study of human races and cultures

In a way that already suggests to me that every ethnography must be collaborative, how else are we supposed to apprehend an entire race and culture of an individual without his/hers collaboration?

‘Ethnography is, by definition, collaborative. In the communities in which we work, study, or practice, we cannot possibly carry out our unique craft without engaging others in the context of their real, everyday lives. Building on these collaborative relationships between the ethnographer and her or his interlocutors, we create our ethnographic texts. To be sure, we all practice collaboration in one form or another when we do ethnography. But collaborative ethnography moves collaboration from its taken-for-granted background and positions it on center stage.’ The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography.

I feel that perhaps the reason why it is so powerful to me, is because I want to share my culture with others, I want them to understand what it really feels like to be born in my country, to grow up with my values, and then suddenly have to adapt to new values.  Values that I also want to take in and fathom as much of as possible. So in a way life is a collaborative ethnography. How can we not take and give a little of ourselves everyday to those around us? We feel empathy for the old gentleman who can no longer walk, we feel anxious for our team before a game, we feel happy for the girl who did well in class, but mostly, they too, feel something when they see you.

But what about my grandma?  An 85 year old lady who can no longer travel or leave her house, does collaborative ethnography not affect her because she is no longer seen by society? I feel as if it does, every day inside her own home. As I interviewed both my grandmother and my mum (please refer to my last post), she shared memories so fund that we were able to feel and understand her better than we have before, we were also grateful because it added to what we knew about our family culture.

As I thought more deeply into the real meaning of ethnography for me, I began to discover that it is more common than not. The old photos that we keep and take out every odd year, the old Christmas cards and birthday cards buried under a box somewhere, the sticky notes on the fridge, the videos and photos recorded on iPhones and iPads, I now understand why Facebook is so popular and why we are ever so eager to share and like endless photos and pages, simply because…   We keep what we have by giving it away’.

All the different channels of life

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Upon sitting down with my note pad on my lap, a cup of tea in one hand and my phone in the other, it was time to call my nan and take a journey down her memory lane.

As I began explaining my task to nan, my mum wondering by caught some interest and sat beside me with her own cup of tea. I put the phone on speaker and our little three generation conference began.

Mum began to describe the old farm house she lived in with nan, she remembers running around outside, brushing her cheeks on the coffee plant leaves, trying to guess the name of each bird that sang in the morning and milking cows for breakfast but being too grossed out about it to drink any milk afterwards.

Nan described the beauty and the horror of raising five kids in the country, where freedom was great but danger was greater, freedom of letting the children climb trees, ride horses, chase ducks and learn a lot from the land themselves, but the horror of having one of them break an arm or a fever in the middle of the night and be hours from the nearest doctor.

As I sat in silence, writing away and furiously swapping between my pen and my cup of tea, I painted a beautiful picture of everything they told me inside my head. Their words and perhaps the power of having all of us together, remembering, sharing and laughing, transported me back in time. I began to suddenly appreciate how far we had all come, much like technology.

‘I remember a huge black box on top of a little table, looked heavy, there was nothing ever around it, no one could touch it or go near it, it was like a precious painting at a museum’, – Mum.

‘I remember your dad (my pop), bringing that thing in, took every man in town to carry it because God forbid someone dropped it, it was huge, all I remember thinking was, not another surface to clean!’, – Nan.

I used to think that televisions started off black and white and as technology progressed you would buy new TVs that would incorporate colour into the moving pictures, but mum remembers clearly when they did start to show colour, it was due to a see through piece of plastic that you attached to the screen of your TV and it turned parts of it blue or green. It was the first time they had ever seen coloured television.

‘I never liked television, we would gather around the living room, squished, all seven of us, in occasions the neighbours would come too and no one could talk’, – Mum.

‘You didn’t like it because you could never stay quiet for more than a minute at a time, we had to, there was barely any sound so we had to pay attention in order to understand what was going on, besides, having five kids and a whining husband, anything that could make you all sit down in silence, to me, was a miracle’, – Nan.

I’m unsure of how things worked over here in Australia, but when the TV was fuzzy or didn’t work we would put those cleaning sponges made out of steel wool called ‘bombril’ in Portuguese, on the end of the TV cable so the picture would get better, and it did!

Back then TV was good to keep everyone quiet and give me some rest, it was good to see the family gathering around and not complaining or fighting, to tell you the truth I liked watching them watch the TV more than I liked watching the TV itself, but now at 85 years of age, TV is a huge part of my life, I wish it wasn’t so much, but It’s just me and your grandad and it gets awfully lonely you know? I miss other peoples voices, other peoples stories, I love him don’t get me wrong, but we’ve been married for 65 years, there is nothing he could tell me that I didn’t already know, that’s why we watch TV all the time, makes me feel connected to something bigger than just this house, I don’t care about the pictures moving faster or in colour, it’s the sound that I like to sleep to, lets me know that I’m not alone.’ – Terezina Marcucci, 85 year old grandmother and best woman I know.

Technological life

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Just like everything in this world, my media space started off very, very small and then it exploded. I remember waking up to my nan turning on her dusty radio every morning. Listening to old country music and oddly enough, the only form of media and communication we had at home, helped her create her own alone space in time. Singing and dancing to herself, she refused to be interrupted until her radio was off.

Growing up in a farm and having to transition between countries (Brazil – Australia), I sometimes feel I might have a very different sense of media than other twenty-something year olds would have. It was quite a shock having to relocate from a small country town in Brazil, where we (the entire town), would all gather around the one television on Sunday afternoons to watch the soccer, to having my own desk, with my own computer in Australia.

I think the fact of being a nine year old migrant, who was unable to speak a word in English, who had no friends and due to visa issues was also unable to attend school, the computer became a huge part of my life. I began to search for sites, programs and games that would implement my sense of belonging. Coming across online chat-rooms, blogs, orkut, MSM-messenger and ICQ, I discovered that even an ocean away, I could still maintain contact with my family and friends.

This opened a huge window and addiction in my life. I created my first blog when I turned ten, making sure I included every detail of my life so my friends and family across the world could feel included, I remember scanning photos I had taken earlier in the month just to post them on my blog. Receiving likes and comments on my posts were as good as presents to me.

Now, twelve years later, currently a student of Communication and Media studies, I must admit media still takes over a majority of my life. I’m a lot more careful on what I post, what programs I use and what groups I join. But I still cherish the fact that I am, one way or another connected to the people I left behind, that they are just one click away from me. I don’t use media to share every single detail about my life anymore, I’ve learned to be more selective, to use media for other purposes like sharing my opinion, my writing and my work. But I often find myself on my phone for hours recreating the memories and feelings I’ve once had, simply by looking through old blogs, posts and pictures. The thing about media is it can be incredibly rewarding if you know how to use it.