My brain on Chrome.

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Jen Lennon

Manovich delves further into software theory this week, and brought up some points about software in a cultural context that I hadn’t considered before. Throughout CCT we consider the effects of interface, device, HGI, and the black box. But I’d never really stopped to consider that now most culture is viewed through this lens, as well. He mentions that in the past, a piece of culture like, say, a film or a television show or a newspaper article had a finite end. Also, it was either a whole thing or a defined part of a whole thing. But with software, now experiences have become infinite. People don’t have to consume things as a whole anymore, and they can jump around a lot more quickly than they used to.

I use Chrome constantly. I always have two windows open: one for personal and one for work/school so I can keep two separate gmail accounts open. And I have a really bad habit of being the girl with 20 tabs open. There’s nothing that can demonstrate the jumping around that Manovich is talking about more than having endless Chrome windows and tabs running concurrently. Though I hesitate to consider Chrome part of my distributed cognition, or becoming a part of my brain, who knows. Maybe it is. It’s a little freaky, but I couldn’t do my work at this point without it.

What’s interesting is beyond managing my day-to-day functionality on my computer, I consume a lot of cultural artifacts through Chrome. I can get to my Netflix that way, where I watch shows on marathon – they literally just start the next episode for you now automatically – or rent movies from Amazon. I constantly read online, whether it’s a blog or the newspapers I used to read physically. I read books through my Amazon Chrome extension now when my e-readers aren’t around. And what does that all mean? To be able to jump mid-sentence in a book to a television show to a social networking site maybe isn’t the best (or intended) way to consume all of this culture. Regardless, though, this is how it happens. And does that make my perception of what I’m viewing any different?  I’ve found myself getting more interested in this idea throughout the semester: does it matter what interface you use to consume certain cultures? Does it change your understanding or your perceptions?

Plus, on top of all of this, Chrome has been saving all of this data the entire time I’ve been using it. And it will recommend things to me based on what I’ve searched for in the past. It will fill things in when I’m typing in searches based on my past. The idea of software memory and customization is something else to consider in the context of distributed cognition. At what point does it stop being your brain? Not to be overly alarmist, but it’s weird to consider that eventually the software you consistently use will start to give information back to you that you haven’t asked for based on your “preferences”. And does this take away from the kind of open mind that consuming cultural artifacts promotes?