Knowledge, Tools and Awareness

15 simple uncoupled pendulums of monotonically increased lengths. I love this kind of stuff; I also think this is the kind of video that would have made me more interested in physics class. It's visual mathematics. Imagine if this kind of thing was used as an introduction to motion. It is also strange to think that wishing I had access to this kind of thing when I was in high school is hindered by one fundamental factor (other than time), that youtube wasn't around when I was in high school. It didn't start to become popular until about mid 2006, the year after I left. It is strange to think of the world without the habitual technological accessories that we have today. I often think that we grow into knowledge, seeing the world through varying conceptual frameworks depending on what we direct our attention to, whether it be physics, politics, literature, art etc.. I think it is increasingly necessary to integrate the factor of technology into our personal histories, in terms of the way we are able to direct ourselves or apply ourselves to our interests via these tools. I didn't use computers much at boarding school. Mine was dedicated to occasional email, typing up essays and listening to music burned from CDs, my own and those of others. Myspace and Facebook were invented (2003, 2004) but not popular (2006, 2009) youtube didn't exist etc...

"Ambient awareness" is a term coined by social scientists referring to constant use of social networking sites/devices, which according to Clive Thomas of the New York Times, is "very much like being physically near someone and picking up on [their] mood through the little things [they do, such as] body language, sighs, [and] stray comments...".
Therefore, in effect two friends who regularly follow one another's digital information can already be aware of each other's lives without actually being physically present to have a conversation.

Tool use changes the brain's representation of the body, extending it to incorporate the tool . Similarly, techno-tool use changes the brain's conceptual relationship to the world and technology becomes an extension of ourselves (some people would argue that we become an extension of technology).

I was sitting in my chemistry class the other day and a guy in front of me was flicking constantly between facebook and the lecture, news sites and the lecture, back to facebook ad infinitum or absurdum; I left before I could work out which. We no longer have temporal or spatial barriers in accessing our social worlds, nor our informational ones. I heard a professor anecdotally say that the knowledge he specialises in is de-specialised when he stands up and asks a question and his students google the answer before he can say it. What do we actually possess when we can possess almost anything via our tools? Is it knowledge? Possible knowledge? 

Paul Virilio, a french theorist, talks of dromological violence insofar as speed destabilises time and space; "if one can move fast enough one is concurrently everywhere bringing about a speed-induced flux so far-reaching and totalising as to be static." Speed, according to Virilio, makes potentiality or possibility actuality - what may appear is given equal standing to what does appear. I think this is so important and I do find this to be a major problem in my life. I could research forever without actually writing anything or doing anything with it. I find it very hard to say, ok, enough information, now I will do something with it. And that is partly a good thing; it means no work is ever finished and everything is work in progress. It is a nice way to look at the world and allows experimentation and a degree of freedom. But it also means that I am liable to fall into the trap of consuming without ever properly producing. What I could write or put into words was conceptually sufficient for me and because I knew I could access information at whim, it became easier to retain a scanty interest rather than a deeper knowledge. I also think that it promotes less active thought process and more passive gathering of information. 

Weird connections, strange tangents and experimental theories used to be the mainstay for a lot of my conversation. Now instead of trying to work theories, rework them, "hmmm... what about... mmmm.... no... or..?" that could go on for hours, someone just pulls out their iThing and Gaggles it. It's not even about knowledge in that case, because it is good to have the right answer, but about the recourse to another source immediately, before even considering it. Now of course there is not much point in arguing for hours over whether such-and-such happened in 1948 or 1949. Or is there? I mean, what kind of workout would your brain get if you had to try and piece together all the information you had to work out when such and such happened?  It is a different way of using the brain. It is not merely time-consuming, or maybe it is, but what is time except movement? What are we storing all of our precious, well-spent hours worth of knowledge for (and why does all our vocabulary reduce to expenditure)? Are we simply saving time to spend it working more, earning more, being productive? If so, are we actually producing anything tangible? 

I think this is important for us and I genuinely worry about it, because often it is dismissed as a waste of time, or a luddite aversion to progress. When we could just "know" the answer, why bother? Yet I'm not sure we even know what knowledge is, or progress, or technology, beyond a standard definition on Wikipedia, that bastion of quick-access facts. And isn't this precisely the problem? We can get information but that doesn't mean that we know what to do with it, that we have understanding. 

etymology of dromological violence: from dromos, the greek word to run/to race.