Springing into action

Yesterday Peter Tolmie and I reached a significant milestone in our work on a book about collecting in the IT era: we signed a contract with the publisher Springer. It commits us to deliver the completed text to their editors by the end of June 2024. We would expect to have a firm publication date by the end of that year. So now, it’s a matter of feeding in some additional material, refining our arguments, and modifying the layout and text to match the Springer Style Guide.

The Spreadsheet – an OFC Superstar

Since my last post here, over 7 months ago, we’ve completed first substantial drafts of all 10 chapters of the book on Collecting in the IT era. The literature survey has made a substantial contribution to the material; and the use of an Excel spreadsheet enabled the process. This is just another example of the massive contribution that the humble spreadsheet has made to modern life since its inception in 1979. Designed ostensibly for manipulating numbers, it has proved equally useful for organising text.

In my first foray into writing books at the National Computing Centre in the 1980s, I tried recording key points that I read or discovered about a subject, in a Word document, and then rearranging them into separate chapters. It was a pretty effective method – but only worked for fairly concise units of text and relatively few of them. For this book I have used a spreadsheet to assemble more than 3,400 chunks of relevant points from over 300 books, papers and other sources; many of the chunks consisting of part-paragraphs of over 80 words of text either copied from digital texts or hand-typed-in. Against each chunk are columns of reference details and allocations to particular chapters. The ability to apply consistent organisation over such a large volume of material, and to be able to search and filter every column, provides a huge advancement in capability over my 1980’s efforts; a capability to identify key points, to assess differing views, and to construct new thoughts and ideas around a particular topic.

The simplicity and power of its structures across both numbers and text, makes the spreadsheet a premier performer in creating order from chaos; it is the hammer and wheel for 21st century individuals.

Google Scholaring

The book on Collecting in the IT era, is coming on; we now have rough drafts for all the chapters. So, over the last couple of months I’ve been doing a literature survey – and discovered that things are a bit different from when I last did something like this about 40 years ago. If I remember rightly, I got the corporate library to interrogate some online databases for me, selected various items from the resulting printouts, and requested the papers and books that I wanted through the inter-library loan system.

These days it’s a little simpler: you do a search of Google Scholar which produces loads of hits presented as a series of abstracts. You click on the items you’re interested in, and, if you’re lucky, the paper will appear either in your PDF reader or in a web page. If the full version isn’t immediately available, a further search of the net may turn up a copy. Failing that, if you have institutional membership of a publisher’s archive, that may give you access; or else you may be able to pay a fee to get a copy. For books, and for papers which you cannot obtain by any of these options, then it’s back to the inter-library loan system (well that’s what it’s called here in the UK – I assume other countries have similar services). In this case, I found versions of all but 8 papers, on the net; and my co-author was able to obtain 7 of the remainder through his institutional memberships. Of the 22 books I needed, I already had 3, I bought 7 on eBay for less than £5 each (and free postage), and I ordered the remainder through inter-library loans via my local library in Bedford.

Now, I don’t know what percentage of the overall canon of human scientific works is included in Google Scholar’s database; but my initial searches gave me some confidence that it was enough to be very useful. For example, a search for the word ‘Collecting’ in the title, identified 80,900 results. I duly conducted a variety of searches and identified some 270 papers and books, of which about 130 proved useful enough to include in the literature survey. From those items, I identified about a further 15 or 20 papers and books to add to the list.

The process of actually reading and assessing the material, was, of course, hard work; but the mechanics of actually conducting the searches and getting the material was extremely quick and easy – much, much easier than I experienced 40 years ago. And, while Google Scholar may not include everything, it’s likely that any key material missing from Google Scholar will be referenced in the material initially identified. I haven’t spoken to anyone other than my co-author about Google Scholar, so this short overview cannot be considered in any way a thorough assessment. However, for what it’s worth, I think it’s been very effective for my purposes, and I’d certainly use it again.

Practice Hierarchy writings

About a year ago I reported that my colleague, Peter Tolmie, and I were working on a book about digitisation’s impact on collecting, based upon all the investigations and writings already described in this blog, as well as auto-ethnographic investigations of a variety of collections that Peter and myself have been associated with. The book will expand many of the notions put forward in the OFC tutorial, and therefore I shall continue to provide updates on our progress on the book, within this Order From Chaos journey.

Since my last report, we have moved on from the auto-ethnographic investigations and derived a draft Practice Hierarchy for collecting, which has eight upper levels – Initiating, Equipping, Acquiring, Depositing, Using, Revealing, Maintaining, and Disposing. We are now in the process of fully verifying, describing and illustrating all the elements. Having done that we plan to analyse and describe how digitisation has affected all these practices – though it may take us several months to get to that next stage.

Doggie Tales

A question that keeps arising in the Order from Chaos investigations documented on this site is ‘why are things being kept?’ One answer is that an item reminds us of people or events that we want to remember; and remembering such things seems to be important for humans. The parable below hints at a reason why.

Doggie Tales – a parable about existence in our world

On platform 5 at Slough railway station there’s a glass box on the wall and it contains the stuffed remains of Station Jim, a beloved dog well known to passengers using the station in the 1890s. A plaque explains as follows:

“Dog Jim was first brought to Slough station when he was about three months old. He was like a ball of wool then, and could be carried about in an overcoat pocket. The first trick taught him was to get over the stairs of the footbridge, and he learnt it so well that he never once crossed the metals from the time he was brought here to the time of his death.

He started his duties as Canine Collector for the Great Western Railway Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund when he was about four months old but, because he was in bad health, he was only actually collecting about two years or so. Yet he managed to place about £40 to the account of the Fund. He only once had a piece of gold put in his box — a half sovereign. On several occasions half crowns were found, but the majority of the coins he collected were pennies and halfpennies. After a time he was taught to bark whenever he received a coin, which caused a great deal of amusement to his numerous patrons. One Sunday during the summer of 1896, a hospital parade was organised at Southall, and his trainer was asked to take him up there to collect. The result was that when his boxes were opened by the Treasurer 265 coins were in them. There were only about five pieces of silver, but when it is remembered that he barked for each coin given him, this must be regarded as a good afternoon’s work.

His railway journeys were few in number. On one occasion he went to Leamington; that was his longest ride. Another time he got into a train and went to Paddington, but was seen by one of the guards and promptly sent back again. Another day he got into a train and was taken into Windsor. The officials saw him, and wanted to put him in the next train home, but he would not agree to that, and walked back through Eton.

He knew a great many amusing tricks. He would sit up and beg, or lie down and “die”; he could make a bow when asked, or stand up on his hind legs. He would get up and sit in a chair and look quite at home with a pipe in his mouth and cap on his head. He would express his feelings in a very noisy manner when he heard any music. If anyone threw a lighted match or a piece of lighted paper on the ground he would extinguish it with a growl. If a ladder was placed against the wall he would climb it. He would play leap frog with the boys; he would escort them off the station if told to do so, but would never bite them. At a St. John Ambulance Examination held at this station he laid down on one of the stretchers and allowed himself to be bandaged up with the rest of the “injured”. He was a splendid swimmer and a very good house dog. He died suddenly in his harness on the platform on the evening of November 19th 1896, and was afterwards placed here by voluntary contributions from a number of the residents in Slough and the staff at this station.” [reproduced on 15May2019 from the Wikipedia entry for Slough Railway Station]

I first came across Station Jim when my office moved to a building opposite Slough Station in 1986 and I occasionally travelled up to London for meetings. There he was in his glass case, 90 years after his death, still intriguing passengers as they waited for their trains. He stuck in my mind, and although I haven’t visited Slough station for 25 years, he popped up in my head as I thought about writing this piece. I googled him and came up with his story straight away. In fact, a search for ‘Station Jim Slough’ produces some 685,000 hits (a search for just ‘Station Jim’ results in a misleadingly huge number of hits probably because a TV film based very loosely on the dog was made in 2001).

Wikipedia cites the Office of Rail and Road‘s statistics in saying that Slough railway station has over 4 million users every year; so it’s reasonable to suppose that, since the display was installed in the late 1890s, many millions of different people must have looked at Station Jim’s taxidermied remains and read about his life. His display and plaque bear testimony to his existence; and they continue to create and reinforce his memory in the minds of hundreds of thousands of people every year, just as his physical presence on the platforms did all those years ago.

Our beloved Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Alfie, died peacefully a week ago from a heart attack aged eleven. He was a loving dog and just wanted to be close to us all the time. Two days after he died we gave all his artefacts – baskets, bowls, food, etc to a dog charity with the one exception of Monkey, the first stuffed toy he ever had and his favourite throughout his life. Monkey has had a wash and now resides on the settee. Alfie was an integral part of our lives, and was also loved by other members of our family and friends. He inspired the concept of ‘Alfie time’ – 6pm – time for drinks and snacks. It was of course the crisps, pretzels, cheesy nibbles etc. that Alfie knew he was entitled to, that drove him to remind us every evening (sometimes with extravagant displays of crouching and turning and whimpering and short barks) when it was Alfie Time. Alfie Time became an established feature in our lives and will be forever thus for us and family and some friends.

We have many photos of Alfie in the indexed and labelled digital family photo collection and physical photo collection in albums, that I have painstakingly built up from all the photos and negatives that I could find in our house and my mother’s house. In fact, a search of the digital collection found 259 photos with Alfie in the file title. Many of these are also in the physical albums. From time to time we’ll look at these photos and they will bring back all our memories of Alfie, how he behaved around the house, how he was so pleased to see when we returned to the house, and all the good times we had with him when we took him away with us. We can’t be certain what will happen to our physical and digital photo collections after we are gone; but we would hope that our children and grandchildren would value this family archive enough to look after it and perhaps even look at it occasionally. If and when they do, they will find Alfie’s picture appearing constantly throughout those eleven years of his life together with descriptions in the file titles and album slip-in tabs of what he was doing and reflecting the close bond he had with us. As they look at those photos, the memories of those who knew Alfie will come flooding back. For our grandchildren, who only knew Alfie briefly up to when they were about 2 and 3 years old, the photos will bring meaning and tangibility to some traces in their minds. For those who come later, the images and words (should they survive the years) will create and reinforce memories of our plucky, loving dog.

When I was three, my mother and father took me to Singapore where my father had got a job as a shipping agent. Shortly after arriving there, we got a dog – a dachshund called Mandy. I have some clear memories of Mandy, and there are 8 photos of her in the family photo collection. I went home to boarding school when I was eight and sometime after that Mandy died. My mother tells me she died peacefully lying on the drive in the sun while she was out. She and I both remember Mandy with fondness. However, my father is dead and none of the rest of the family ever met Mandy, so really we are the only two who have a strong recollection of her time on this earth. Perhaps there are one or two old timers in their eighties and nineties who came to our house in Kheam Hock Rd and retain a fragmentary image in their minds of her – but they’re dying out fast. I mention Mandy to the family very occassionally and her photos might be stumbled on in the photo collection from time to time; but her presence in our collective minds is dimming as the years go by. Eventually there’ll be just those 8 photos and associated words in the file titles (should they survive the generations) that will bear testimony to the part that Mandy played in our lives at Kheam Hock Rd.

My wife’s family had a dog when she was little. He was called Bruce, and they lived in a house in Leeds. My wife remembers Bruce but rarely talks about him; and I have no recollection of conversations with her mother, brothers or sisters about Bruce – in fact, her two brothers had not even been born before Bruce died. I’ve found 2 pictures of Bruce in the family photo collection and, although I must have indexed them and created their file titles, I’d forgotten they were there or what they looked like. They have left new traces in my mind overlayed with the conversation I had with my wife about him yesterday morning. They are images and information of interest but they inspire no emotion in me; and I guess my wife feels the same about what I tell her about Mandy. Perhaps my wife will talk about Bruce to the family sometimes in the future, but, like Mandy, Bruce’s presence in this world will eventually fade to just those two black and white photos that may spark an interest in those who see them.

My mother’s parents got a dog – a wire-haired terrier – soon after we moved out to Singapore in 1953. We have just one photo of my grandfather and the dog taken in the mid 1950s in the garden in Old Retford Rd, Sheffield. My mother never met the dog and can’t remember what it was called or anything else about him – only that he was run over outside the house to the great mortification of her parents.

Earlier generations of our family probably – possibly – had dogs…. Who knows?

U6.4 A summary view of the OFC future

Taking all the material from Units 6.1-6.3 into account, it looks like there will be a period of steady evolution before we start to encounter AI entities with the ability to do things autonomously. During this evolutionary period, the main individual applications that we use will become increasingly sophisticated and central to our lives; and we will make increasing use of applications and internet services which embed a degree of AI expertise and the ability to learn, and we will start to think they are normal and very useful. The amount of digital material we possess will continue to grow. It will become increasingly important to make arrangements for our digital accounts and possessions to be managed after we die. More and more physical objects will contain chips which we can interrogate and control through our computer systems. We will grow used to interacting with our computer systems by voice as well as by keyboard; and we will probably start to get used to virtual reality experiences.

At some point, the computer manufacturers will produce products in which our primary interaction with the system will be via a single AI entity. This will seem normal given what we have experienced before. The AI entity will take care of all maintenance, including backups, and will ensure that our files are always accessible and readable. As the AI entity becomes more knowledgeable, it will start to do more and more for us and we will have to provide less and less detailed instructions. The AI may start to see what we show it and know what it is looking at. There may be other AI in the house in other computers or in robots, and we will be able to interconnect them and instruct them to cooperate. While the digital world will increasingly be taken care of by our AI, we may start to value some of our physical possessions even more.

I can’t say I’m particularly confident that this vision of the future is what it will actually be like. Nor am I sure that it is of any particular relevance to any OFC project you are about to embark on. However, it was interesting to think through where things might be going. If there was any conclusion I would come to from this examination, it is that our digital world is going to be fully taken care of by an increasingly autonomous AI; and that, in the face of this, we should take increasing care of our precious physical possessions as they are the only things that are going to be truly under our control.

This is the last Unit in this OFC Online Tutorial.

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U6.3 The future impact of AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a term used to signify intelligent behaviour by machines – which really just means them doing more complex things than they have done before. Two significant milestones in the development of AI were when IBM’s Deep Thought programme beat Garry Kasparov, a reigning world chess champion, in 1997; and in 2016 when Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo programme beat a professional Go player. Current prominent AI work includes the development of driverless cars and trucks, and improving the ability of AI programmes to learn for themselves. It is generally thought that AI capabilities will continue to be developed for some time in just narrow areas of application, before eventually broadening their scope to become more general-purpose intelligent entities. Assuming this development trajectory, we can speculate that the way we deal with our digital objects and collections might be impacted by AI in the following series of steps, each one taking greater advantage of an increasingly capable technology:

A. AI to collect virtual objects at our specific request: The Facebook ‘on this day’ function that we can choose to turn on or off, is a good example of this in use in a contemporary system. In future systems we might imagine that we have an AI which is independent of any one system but which we could ask to collect specific objects across the systems we specify, for example, ‘collect all photos that we look at in our email, in Facebook and on Instagram’.

B. AI to collect digital objects at our general instruction: This is similar to step A except that we won’t have to specify the systems we want it to monitor. We‘ll just provide a blanket instruction such as ‘collect everything to do with any shopping I do’, or ‘collect all photos I look at’, and the AI will address the request across all the systems we use. At this stage the AI should also be taking care of all our backup requirements.

C. AI to understand what it sees in the digital objects: If we have asked the AI to collect objects for us, in this step it will be capable of fully understanding the content of the objects, and of having a conversation about what they are and the connections between them. At this point there will be no need for indexes to digital collections since the AI will know everything about the objects anyway; it will be able to sort and organise digital files and to retrieve anything we ask it for. The AI will also be handling all our digital preservation issues – it will just do any conversions that are necessary in the background to ensure that files are always readable.

D. AI to exploit our digital objects for us at our request: Now that the AI has control of all our objects and understands what they are, we may just be able to say things like, ‘assemble a book of photos of the whole of our family line and include whatever text you can find about each family member and have three copies printed and sent to me’.

E. Eventually we leave it all to AI and do nothing with digital objects ourselves: By this stage the AI will know what we like and don’t like and will be doing all our collecting and exploiting for us. We’ll just become consumers demanding general services and either complimenting or criticising the AI on what it does.

The last stage above reflects one of the possible futures described by Yuval Harari in his book ‘Homo Deus’ in which AI comes to know us better than we do ourselves, since it will fully understand the absolute state of the knowledge we have and be able to discount temporary influences such as having a bad day or some slanted political advertising. This clearly represents a rather extreme possible situation many decades hence; nevertheless, given what we know has happened to date, we would be foolish to discount either the rate or the content of possible development. However, we should also remain absolutely clear that it will be us, as individuals, that are deciding whether or not to take up each of the steps described above.

Throughout this period of the rise of AI, we will still be dealing with our physical world and our physical objects. AI may be able to see the physical world through lenses (it’s eyes), and be able to understand what it is seeing, and we may well get the AI to help us manage our physical objects in various ways. However, it won’t be able to physically manipulate our objects unless we introduce AI-imbued machines (robots for want of a better word). This too is a distinct possibility – especially since we are used to having machines in our houses (we’ve already made a start with robot vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers). However, having tried to think through the various stages that we would go through with using robots, I came to a bit of a brick wall. I found it very hard to envisage robots rooting round our cupboards, putting papers into folders, and climbing into the loft. It just seems unrealistic unless it was a fully fledged, super-intelligent, human-type robot – and that in itself brings with it all sorts of other practical and ethical questions which I’m not equipped to even speculate about. Perhaps all that can be said with any certainty about such a future of AI software and robots, is that humans will take advantage of whatever technology is on offer provided it suits them and they can afford it.

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U6.2 The future impact of recent developments

A number of recent or ongoing developments give an indication of what technologies we might be using in the future to create, use, and exploit our digital objects. They are described below. The various dates quoted are taken from the internet’s Wikipedia.

GPS position data in photo tags: It has now become a standard camera feature to include location data in the metadata tag of every photo taken, by using GPS position data. The tags also include full details about the camera, the settings used, and of course the date. All this data is acquired automatically and placed in metadata tags which are mostly hidden unless specifically looked at.
Impact on OFC projects: Systems will increasingly use all available information and data sources to build up a set of knowledge about each digital object. These other sources may include calendar systems, emails, texts, social media and the internet.

Music recognition: Shazam and other internet services identify music, movies, advertising, and television shows, based on a short sample played through the microphone on the device being used to run the relevant application. Shazam first started operating in 2002 and this kind of functionality is now well known and widely used. iPhone 8 users can ask Siri, its virtual agent, to identify what music is playing and it will provide the answer after interacting with Shazam in the background.
Impact on OFC projects: See Image Recognition below

Face recognition: Google’s Picasa programme was one of the first photo management applications to offer a face recognition capability in 2008. Since then, the function has become a commonplace feature provided in a host of applications and mobile phone apps. Not only can you search for a face within a set of photos, but also across the whole internet.
Impact on OFC projects: See Image Recognition below

Image recognition: Google’s image search capability was amazing when it first  came out in 2001; but was even more astounding when a reverse image search function was added in 2011 which searched for images similar to one uploaded or specified. Nowadays, it is a heavily used function which most Google users are familiar with.
Impact on OFC projects: The ability of computers to recognise music, faces, objects – anything – will become increasingly sophisticated and accurate. It will develop from just being able to find similar things, to understanding what particular things are in the same way that we can recognise a piece of music as being classical, or a face being European, or a particular animal being a cat. Future software that manages digital objects will also have an understanding of what those objects are.

RFID: The cheaper RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) systems for tracking objects can be purchased for less than £400 and they will continue to drop in price. The cost of the tags that are attached to the objects you want to monitor are a few pence each.
Impact on OFC projects: See Smart Home Devices below

Smart home devices: There is a growing market for systems to control a wide variety of home devices including heating, lighting, sound systems and security. This is currently the most prominent aspect of a general idea referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) in which communicating chips are built into products to assist their manufacture, use and maintenance.
Impact on OFC projects: Many of the physical possessions we obtain in the future will include a chip which contains information about the object and which can communicate with parent apps. We will become familiar with controlling objects in this way and with using the parent apps. We will attach our own RFID tags to our important possessions that are not already chipped, so that we can keep track of them within the same control systems.

Facebook’s ‘on this day’ function: Facebook provides its users with the option of being regularly presented with historical posts from the same date some years ago. These remind people of what they were thinking and doing, and who they were interacting with, in the past; and reawakens their memory of those events.
Impact on OFC projects: This sort of feature will be incorporated in many systems that accumulate user’s digital objects. Users who like it will come to regard it as a primary source of prompts for their memories. As the collections of objects grow over time, they will become increasingly valuable to individuals. Users will also become accustomed to not having to put any effort into saving material because the systems will do that for them.

The culture of sharing and being public: Today, a great many people want to upload, share objects, and get likes. There is less interest in private reflections, diaries and private photo collections.
Impact on OFC projects: People will increasingly want to share the broad range of digital objects (i.e more than just photos) in their collections with others. Systems will continue to be developed to enable them to do so. Perhaps families will possess their own virtual spaces to curate their own history.

The emergence of Virtual Reality: Virtual Reality (VR) has been under development for over 30 years but has still not become mainstream technology. However, several of the major technology companies including Samsung and Facebook, have products; and some use is being made of it in computer gaming. The industry is searching for a killer application – something like 360 degree videos, for example, or augmented reality in which virtual objects are superimposed on a picture of the real world. In the meantime, however, there is a continuing belief that the technology will eventually be widespread.
Impact on OFC projects: VR could eventually provide a controlled access exhibition space in which to manage and display all your digital objects.

Voice interaction: Voice recognition products emerged in the 1980s and have been getting better and better ever since. However, in recent years, three different personal assistant-type technologies which use voice as their primary interface with the user, have become widespread: Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and, more recently, Amazon’s Alexa; and it is these three that are familiarising the majority of ordinary users with the idea of using voice as a primary interface to their mobile phones and their computers. Alexa is being used initially as an interface to Amazon’s Echo device which accesses Amazon’s huge music library and the internet. The ability to stand in one’s kitchen and suddenly desire to hear a particular piece of music and to say, for example, ‘Alexa, play the album No Secrets by Carly Simon’ and to have it start playing 5 seconds later, is amazing, and is indicative of how easy it will be in the future to pull up any of our digital objects including photos and mementos.
Impact on OFC projects: The capabilities of the voice interface will continue to improve until it becomes as reliable as normal conversation. A considerable amount of computer interaction currently performed using keyboards will migrate to voice. Users will become used to the idea of asking the computer for information and answers, and having the computer respond with what they want.

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U6.1 The future of OFC items and collections

OFC is a general technique for organising all sorts of things – in fact almost any sort of thing – but mostly things that belong to individuals in their own houses. A significant change that has occurred to the physical things in people’s houses over the last 70 years is that they have increased enormously in quantity. We are in an era of constant economic growth, supported by rampant consumerism; we accumulate a lot more things and we don’t use those things for as long as we used to. Consequently, often the reason people start an OFC-type sort out is simply that they have accumulated too much stuff. Alternatively, they turn to the self storage services which rent out self-contained rooms in a building into which customers can put anything and can access as and when they please. Such services are now widespread. This consumer-driven overload of personal possessions is unlikely to change very much in the future unless a cataclysmic event occurs such as economic collapse, war, or natural disaster due to climate change.

Within the general growth in possessions, there are some areas in which technology has resulted in some shrinkage. Perhaps the best example is the replacement of many (but not all) LPs and CDs by digital MP3 music files. Another is a reduction in paper telephone directories, newspapers, magazines, instruction books and manuals. Books are vulnerable – though sales appear to be holding up at present. Conversely, there is one emerging technology that could actually start to increase the number of physical possessions we have – 3D printing. This is a long way off being cheap enough and useful enough – perhaps fifteen years or more. Nevertheless, if some significant consumer uses for the technology emerged, this could become as common as ordinary printing is today.

Turning to digital objects, we only started to accumulate these about thirty years ago, and for such items we are still on an upward growth path. Emails, texts, Facebook entries, photos – these are some of the digital items which are now an integral part of people’s lives, and we continue to acquire more and more of them every year. In the areas of general household transactions – finance, purchasing, insurance, transport, holidays etc. – more and more is being done electronically and more and more digital objects are being produced to support the transactions. Of course, we have the option to  discard some if we want to, but the overall trajectory is still upwards because a) we are still in the process of moving transactions into the electronic environment, and b) the technology gives us little reason to clear things out; in today’s systems, digital storage is plentiful and cheap and there is no impact on physical space whether you have a small number of electronic files or a huge number of them – in both cases they are essentially invisible.

For the collections we start deliberately as hobbies (stamps, books, Clarice Cliff ceramics, firemen’s helmets etc.), there is unlikely to be any downturn. With any luck, humans will continue to be fascinated by the challenge of finding and assembling collections of particular types of physical objects for a long time to come (something which is more difficult to forecast is whether people will start to collect particular types of digital objects as a hobby). For today’s physical hobby collections, there are already many digital services and apps which provide auxiliary support, and it is easy to see these increasing in number and sophistication. The hobby collection of the future is likely to be a hybrid with the digital objects being 3D spin photos, fully indexed, displayed in a virtual exhibition space with access controls enabling the owner to allow specific individuals or the general public to view part or all of the collection. Perhaps virtual exhibitions of contributions from individual collectors will be curated and made available on the net. Perhaps such things already take place…..

Of course, unless specified otherwise, we usually assume that an object is authentic and original. This is not always the case with physical objects; and it is probably even easier to fake digital objects. We have long had problems with movies misrepresenting historical fact ‘for the sake of the story’; and today we are having problems with fake news on the net. In the future, we will need to become more cautious about authentication, and more honest and diligent in the declaration of fictions.

When it comes to inheriting things from our deceased relatives, physical objects are relatively straightforward to deal with even though there are now greater quantities to sort out. Digital objects, however, are much more problematic. It could take an awful long time to get to grips with somebody else’s computer files, and there is less incentive to actually do so since the system is probably not taking up a great deal of physical space. Furthermore, many of the files will probably be in some service in the cloud, each of which will require effort to access and comprehend. Having said that, some services such as facebook enable you to specify a ‘legacy contact’ who will manage your memorialised account after you die. Other net services offer to store account information and passwords for you and to pass them to whoever you specify when you die. As the digital environment becomes increasingly central to people’s lives, the use of such services and the inclusion of stipulations in wills about digital content, will become increasingly prevalent and important. However, even if you have been given all the information about someone’s accounts, the adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is still particularly apt; rather than undertaking a thorough OFC exercise, it could be easy to just unsubscribe from a particular service that the deceased used to use, or to let an old laptop you inherited just languish in a cupboard until it becomes obsolete and unusable.

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U6.0 OFC in the future – Introduction

This section attempts to provide a view of some of the future developments that might affect the topics discussed in this tutorial. The developments that are outlined are based only on general reading not detailed research; however, hopefully they indicate the broad direction of travel. Readers should be aware that, after writing sections 1-5 of this tutorial, but before starting on this section 6, I deliberately read ‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Noah Harari in order to give me an up to date basis of where the technology is headed. The book gave me far more than that – it also provides an insight into what we are and why we do things. Several of its ideas have found their way into this section of the tutorial.

This view of the impact of future development on OFC is in the four parts listed below. First it considers what will happen to the things that are fundamental to OFC projects – the items themselves. Second, it assesses the impact of developments that are occurring today; and then it looks at the impact of the dominant coming technology of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Finally, the overall impact of all these developments is summarised.

U6.1  The future of OFC items and collections
U6.2  The future impact of recent developments
U6.3  The future impact of AI
U6.4  A summary view of the OFC future

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