A Head for Detail
Congratulations! Your story on Gordon Bell (November 2006) is one of the most fascinating and important articles I can recall ever having read. Where, what, who would we be without our memories? I've already made a PDF copy of your article and stored it safely on my hard drive, together with a backup copy on an external hard disk, a copy on my virtual hard drive, and a spare copy on my USB watch. I'm going to go out and buy the print edition of this issue of Fast Company first thing tomorrow morning, because I want to get it in writing!
Clive Thompson's article about Gordon Bell and his
Colorado Springs, Colorado
My sister worked with Gordon Bell at DEC back in the 1970s. She confirmed that he was "a neat guy" who still looks great and is just the type who would subject himself to such a life-changing experiment as cataloging his existence on a "surrogate brain." As a jazz saxophonist, teacher, and music-learning software developer, however, I was particularly intrigued by Bradley Rhodes's "Remembrance Agent," Eric Horvitz's "Lifebrowser," and Devon Technologies' DEVONthink. What was left of my hair began to stand on end as I realized these applications come close to mimicking what my brain does as I play music, especially during the improvisation process. Bits and pieces of information (not always musical) fly by instantly and manifest themselves over, through, and around the prepracticed patterns to create new and sometimes exciting ideas. Of course, the bits of info that are forgotten, along with those that I recall but can only feebly attempt to get out of my saxophone, are often what make each improvisation (hopefully) beautifully different from the others. I am anxious to share the article with my students and colleagues … if I can only remember where I put that issue.
The Memory Skeptics
Gordon Bell is not reengineering human memory. And he's not never forgetting. And he does not have an off-site brain. All he has done is build a better mousetrap. He's creating a personal encyclopedia, which, because it's electronic, lets him search it. It's a new file cabinet. It's a tool on which he—and the rest of us—may become dependent. But it's no different from photocopiers (remember carbon paper?), fax machines (remember delivery boys?), cell phones (remember public telephones?), and email (remember writing and mailing letters?).
If, as your cover photo suggests, he could plug his computerized file cabinet into his brain and have it access his artificially stored memories, then he would have a legacy. But, of course, the question would be whether the human brain could work fast enough to make sense of all the data that nature requires us to forget. After all, it would be unnatural for us to remember everything. Thus the need for file cabinets!
Bruce A. Hurwitz
Cliffside Park, New Jersey
It's one thing to have a vague idea of some piece of info you knew in the past and look it up in a vast database. It's altogether different if you totally forget something, and even when someone presented the info to you, you still aren't sure you actually knew it. Knowing and remembering are two separate things.
Brooklyn, New York
Indexing everything in some sort of meaningful way would put
Boca Raton, Florida
The only problem that I have about such an endeavor is relevance. What if we no longer wish to record every event, or if society mandates that our memories be available for public record? Imagine the chaos. Not everyone is willing to give permission to tape their conversations or have their images captured. Nevertheless, your article is interesting and noteworthy.
A Head for Jokes
I really enjoyed "A Head for Detail" and all the ramifications. However, I truly appreciated that even a technically adept person like Gordon Bell can forget to do a backup!
Just got the November issue and couldn't get it out of sight from my wife fast enough. Gordon Bell could cause married men to begin running out of excuses very quickly!
And Now, the News
I very much enjoyed reading about Rob Curley's adventures in presenting local news online while taking full advantage of the Web's communication potential ("Hyperlocal Hero," November). He may be an übernerd, but after reading the article, I wanted to meet him. He clearly understands how stories can be better told in a multimedia format. He's not the only one who thinks of the Web as a superior communications medium—but he does seem to have a Steve Jobs-like ability to gather and exploit great young programmers. It's good to hear that the newspaper industry is finally accepting new opportunities instead of focusing on old fears. I truly hope the broadcast and cable industries are next. If not, Google made a very bad bet on YouTube.
New York, New York
I've known Rob since he started his career, and he's a good guy who is trying to do things that matter. There is a (woefully) small group of true and consistent innovators in American traditional media—fewer than two dozen people—and Rob is part of that group. It's not easy to get a reluctant and sometimes delusional industry to move in the right direction. The critics should give some credit to anyone willing to fight that exhausting battle. Plenty of others, from the copy desk to the boardroom, are content to sit back, whine, collect a check, and hope that retirement comes soon.
San Francisco, California
Rob Curley is a visionary. He has the drive and ability to re-create the way the world gets its news.
Estes Park, Colorado
By the Time I Get to Phoenix
As a Phoenix resident and football fan, it's disappointing to see any kudos for the Cardinals new stadium ("Idea Log," November). The new stadium is an unattractive eyesore. The operable roof is nothing to brag about either; we already had a ballpark with one. But what's most disappointing is that in Arizona, where we have well over 200 days of clear, sunny skies—many of them blistering hot—there is not one solar-energy collecting panel in the entire facility. Instead, we just have another giant building on the grid using large amounts of power to run the air-conditioner.
I was disappointed when I came across the article in the November 2006 issue about the Cardinals Stadium in Arizona. The project credits excluded Schuff International Inc., a subcontractor that developed, fabricated, and erected the two most-featured aspects of the stadium: the 700-foot-long Brunel trusses, as well as the movable field tray. Dave Schuff (the founder) and the company have received awards for their contribution. I just wanted to make Fast Company and its readers aware of a true contributor on the project.
Jason R. Creed
The editors respond: Peter Eisenman provided the project credits and regrets the omission of David Schuff and Schuff International.
The description of Social Capitalist Award winner College Summit (December/January) should have made clear that it expects to serve 7,300 students in the 2006—2007 school year—not in 2006 and 2007.
In "The Shipping News" (December/January), the description of the luggage club's platinum membership should have specified that it only covers items sent in the contiguous 48 states.
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A version of this article appeared in the February 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.