Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lost Things Found

This was written for an advent calendar, for a dear departed friend, about a slowly departing Father. It's gone from the Internet Archive now, but I was reminded of it by today's reunited bear.

I don't want to lose it again.

From: Kim Plowright
To: Leslie Harpold
i finally thought of one for you. It starts sad and ends happy, just
like a Jimmy Stuart film.
I can do you a photo of the bear, if that will help??
One of my earliest memories is of loosing my favourite teddy bear.
One winter, when I was about 3 years old I was sitting outside the butcher's on Canterbury High Street in my pushchair. My mum was inside.
(The butcher, by the way, was in an Elizabethan half timbered building, and still had sawdust on the floor in those days; it's a 'Thornons' chain chocolate shop these days...)
As two-year-olds tend to do, I dropped Koko, a stuffed Koala bear that my Dad bought for me when I was newborn, over the edge of my pushchair.
(My pushchair, incidentally, was black metal and a kind of deep turquoise vinyl, and smelt of plastic. This is a pretty strong memory, can you tell?)
I cried, loudly. My mum came out to see what was wrong.
Anyway - she saw that I didn't have my bear, and looked around on the ground. No bear. anywhere. Gone. Someone had picked up a teddy bear from next to the puschair of a screaming child, and taken it.
I was inconsolable.
It must have been shortly before christmas, because my Dad decided to replace my Koala with one from Santa, as a lovely surprise. He looked everywhere for a Koala that was identical to the one I'd lost. He scoured toyshops all over Canterbury, and got more and more upset; all of the bears had black scratchy plastic paws, which my bear didn't. He tells me he he was nearly in tears over his failure to find a matching bear; it was one of those 'I will be a good parent' things.
Eventually, on Christmas eve, in desperation, he bought the only Koala he could find. Its nose was brown, which was wrong; so he coloured in the nose with permanent marker pen. Just before he went to wrap it up, he looked at this bear's paws, and though 'I don't like them, they're a bit sharp, not really suitable for a small child; I'll cut them off.'
As he scissored away the paws, he remembered he'd done exactly the same thing with the original bear he's bought. He'd been looking for the wrong bear.
On Christmas morning, I got my Koko back, and I loved him more than anything; I didn't notice the difference. Even now, thirty years later, Koko sits at the end of my bed, and you can just about see the marker pen stripes on his scuffed leather nose.
And Koko reminds me what a wonderful, caring man my Father is, and that he'd go to great, great lengths to make the world just so for me.

And today's bear:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bodies of Learning

I'm going to write a thing, and it's going to be very brief. It might even involve bullet points.

I'm writing it here because it feels longer than a tweet.

Today I'm at an event at the British Library, about how Digital Humanities are changing scholarship, and the work done by British Library Labs.

I've been thinking recently about Data - I'm doing a piece of work for Caper about the uses of open data in the cultural sector. Part of this thinking has been about the old saw of the route from Data to Information to Knowledge to Wisdom.

Tom Armitage talked about this transformation really eloquently at the ODI recently, about how it inflects practice and making of things.

It strikes me that at the moment we're busy on the first two stages of that route. The government and the ODI are championing open data as a way of improving transparency - forcing governmental and societal change by opening up datasets to scrutiny.

The ODI are taking it further - looking at teaching and encouraging the skills of visualisation and interpretation: equipping people with the techniques to turn data in to information - usable stuff that exposes insights and opinions.

Listening to people talk about the importance and difficulty of dealing with huge archives - unknowable quantities of STUFF in books and records and collections and museums and and and and has got me thinking. In particular, a chap whose work involves taking statistically relevant samples of examples from within large library collections - a way of reducing the amount of STUFF you'd need to consume to get an intellectual overview of a field.

We talk about Bodies of Knowledge, Bodies of Learning. The process of working with an archive is one of becoming expert - of incorporating - of *taking in to your body* the quirks and weft and warp of the data.

Scholarship is the process of keeping things in mind - of transferring digital data archives in to a kind of biological working memory, incorporated in graduate students and PDH researchers.

At what point will we be comfortable to allow the machines to store this memory? In the way that books and writing profoundly changed the way the (?) Ancient Greeks thought about the process of creating stories and memory palaces, when will our tipping point come? When the cloud and linked references and annotated assumptions and inferences is *good enough* as an external store of cultural memory.


Just thinking.