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Digital Biography

Digital is the medium which encompases and subsumes all others --
but what is it for ?

What uses or applications of digitial media can we create that will fully exploit its potential
in service of the deepest of human desires ?

And each has a story to tell, the story of the life it has made.

Digital Biography

In The City and the Stars, Arthur Clarke describes a world where people live, die, are reborn, and continue in this cycle through billions of years. In that world, the memories of an individual's past lives are restored to the reborn person after the twentieth year. When, tired of living, one returns to the hall of creation to end the current life, the person reviews the memories of past lives, including the latest one lived, and chooses what will be saved for recall in the next reincarnation.

What Clarke imagined as a necessary part of that cycle of birth and death, we can undertake today -- in the sense of editing this life's memories to reveal and illuminate what has been most important to each of us as an individual. Multi-media control, non-sequential text, simulation, animation, extensive memory and quality video now permit individuals to begin to use the digital medium in a non-trivial, essentially artistic, and deeply personal task -- recreating one's own vision and experience of life.

Who would want to do so and why ?

Many and for various reasons.

Who would pay ?

The wealthy first, for themselves.

Then organizations, subcultures, even nations, wishing to honor their most distinguished members.

Then the technically adept with access to more limited resources.

Eventually and more generally, those able to use tools such as which will be created as the activity becomes popular.

Typically biographers make books, but they rarely do justice to people of genius. For example, in a recent book "A Mind of her Own", a biography of the theorist of psychotherapy, Karen Horney, the author wrote a most engaging story, but as a study her story was severely limited. She told her audience about Karen, the person, but she left out Horney, the theorist.

Digital biographies, flexible enough to permit a reader to find the preferred depth, with components capable of function as well as presentation, can better do justice to the most remarkable among us.

What would be Done with such Digital Biographies ?

For the individual as participating subject, digital biography would be an expressive act, an opportunity to render a vision of life and a sense of experience. For a biographer, it would be an effort of intellectual/social history. For society, one could think of such as archives for today and resources for tomorrow. Understanding individuals as creators of ideas can help in understanding the ideas themselves and their subsequent modifications. To the extent that such resources can permit better access for students to the original work of important thinkers and agents -- even with later added annotations for clarification and guidance -- their availability may improve students' appreciation of the application as well as of the structure of ideas in a community as it grows through time.

What would be Problems in Publishing Digital Biographies ?

Publication separates into two issues: "distribution" and "annotation". At any time, the limits on distribution would be technical (what hardware is accessible through which general access could be had), economic (who profits), and ethical (how does one deal with errors, misrepresentations, and distasteful truths ?). The technical issues need not be confronted immediately -- except that one would want to define specifications for or design a language for describing the relationships among the elements of the media in such a way that it would be only marginally dependent (if at all) on specific media or systems in which the biography would be instantiated. Economic questions would require negotiation as ever.

The ethical questions would probably have to be dealt with on a case by case basis at first until satisfactory norms evolve. This is so because the willingness of some people to share their views will depend on keeping secrets until their interests are invulnerable. On the other hand, if it is known that the truth will out in the end, misrepresentations of various sorts would likely be minimized except by the chronically deceitful. This is where annotation comes to the fore, because it will permit a kind of secondary public dialogue where the annotator will not have to invest years producing "a work" to criticize mistaken points and argue against mistaken impressions.

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