Gordon Needs a Wife

“Gordon returns home from a business trip”-so begins the (perhaps unintentionally) humorous opening scenario of Digital Memories in an Era of Ubiquitous Computing and Abundant Storage [Mary Czerwinski et al, 2006].

By the time he had finished downloading his conference photos, sharing them with friends, accessing related email, noting his elevated temperature and finding his missing hat-all through the use of ubiquitous computing-I could not escape the thought: Gordon needs a wife (or if you prefer, significant other).

That happy day might arrive a lot sooner than the article’s “vision…not yet fully realized [but] becoming possible as a consequence of making everyday objects computationally enhanced and networked.”

While it is true that embedded processors and network connectivity are being added to many of the objects that surround us, we still seem very far away from having even the most basic of them function reliably enough. Servers crash, sophisticated networks like Second Life are under frequent attack, and my GE Monogram freezer keeps icing up near a leaky gasket.

But it is certainly fun to speculate, as the authors do here, about “what we might do with a life’s worth of digital memories and the applications that might prove useful.” Memory, shared personal experience, personal reflection and analysis, time management, security-these are all legitimate areas for development that might prove especially helpful to the aging Baby Boomer generation.

Also interesting are some of the countervailing factors cited as reasons why “we may not want a complete and objective memory of the past”-including the potential for self-incrimination and the possibility of a “privacy crisis.” Personally, I found the authors’ assertion that “security is not an issue” to be somewhat disingenuous. Recent highly publicized breaches of government and commercial data demonstrate that in a digital, networked environment there simply is no security. (My advice: pay your hate-group membership dues in Krugerrands.)

Nevertheless, as this article notes, “convenience often trumps security concerns… [and] it is clear that the growing availability of low-cost storage, coupled with improved technology for recording multimedia data and the ubiquitous use of sensors has stirred researcher (and public) interest.” But I also agree with the authors’ conclusion that “difficult technological, legal, and social issues must…be solved to make lifetime recording valuable.”

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