The new Memex and the Economics of Interaction

As in the case of ideologies and political movements, technological progress was as well possible by inspiring ideas, which provided vision for future engineers and scientists as they were making progress. Bush’s “As we may think”[1] is one of those articles which provide the conceptual grounding for today’s technology. Memex, based on the idea of compression, was conceptualized as an external memory which people could consult to. The concept of memex, however, do not rely on digitization but rather provides a vision.

This conceptualization has manifestations in multiple technology products that we use today. The idea of compressing information relates to the idea of USB flash drives – commonly used for storage and data back-up. USB’s are economically available for the public, and they relate to the idea of memex through its availability and ability to storage large data. USB’s, however, involve passive information – there is no interface in USBs that renders them devices that we can consult, nor hypertexts. Google’s search engine, on the other hand, relates more to Bush’s conceptualization of the Memex through its association with the memory.

That being said – less than 24 hours ago, a product that has functionalities of both USB and Google were introduced: (USB’s storage capabilities and mobility combined with Google search engine’s hypertexted structure that relates to our cognition): the Chromebit. Being able to be plugged in to any HDMI-equipped display, Googlebit turns every interface to a computer. Functionalities of Google-based laptops, in a device that is smaller than an iPhone: A USB-like computer. Memex is still inspiring new technological products, since it is more than a technological model.

The fact that the idea of memex existed before a technical model of Google, USB or digitization makes me think about the following: did participatory media exist before social media, or the current structure of Web 2.0? Actually, interactive media existed before social media platforms, or Web 2.0: Consider the following cases where more than one people interact with content: Second-hand book stores where people seek books with notes, in order to relate to nostalgically relate to the memories of strangers, or the signatures a paper gets for a cause. These two are the cases where media is interactive, where people are collectively interacting through a medium.

Interacting with content, however, is now integratl to media constumption process. By rating videos on Youtube,  we interact with content. By commenting on comments and rating feedbacks, we even interact with interaction. This particular structure do not base on a technological innovation, but rather bases on the way network architecture was modified to accommodate interaction. User-experience is the priority, and is facilitated through abstraction. Focusing on user-experience is is possible through design – the most crucial element in the architecture, considering that it is the interface between human cognition and the blackboxed artifact.

It should be noted, however, that the current structure of the Web as an interactive platform where users engage with content – rests on a digital economic model. Interactive design exploits our brain’s structure, by providing instant informational and emotional inputs. This structure is economically promotes, because the interfaces that we interact are also marketing channels for brands. Our attachment to interfaces is a demand of the market, not only because brands want us to be close to us as possible, but also because brands want us to interact with them.

In order to describe and characterize the current computational devices through which we access these content, I believe that it is necessary to note a convergence of the interface – the functionalities embedded on my computer, phone and television are getting similar day by day. Therefore, in today’s context, it is necessary to differentiate forms of media from medium. Previously, media forms directly related to senses: radio would make sound, books were for reading, and television was for watching. In today’s context, however, it is easier to discern that media forms are functionalities, and these functionalities are accessible through simple finger movements (such as scrolling, tapping, etc.) Differentiating media functionalities from the devices that enable access leads to the idea of “metamedia.”

[1] Bush, V., & Think, A. W. M. (1945). The atlantic monthly. As we may think,176(1), 101-108.