Are e-books bad for long-term memory?

Some research to let you rethink – should you throw out all those books that are cluttering up your  post-modern minimalist space yet – your “pad” – once hip before it acquired  an “i-” and “kindle” was something you did to a fire. From Smart Planet by Amy Kraft

As the world becomes more and more digital, Kindles and Nooks are replacing classroom textbooks as learning aids. But new research shows that students should hold onto their hardcovers if they want to remember what they read.

Studies show that people have a harder time remembering facts and recalling the names of characters and details when reading an e-book. Researchers think this has to do with the way we evolved to remember things.

In one study by Kate Garland, a psychology lecturer at the University of Leicester in England, participants got a crash course in economics–a subject nobody understood. Those who were instructed to learn on an e-book required more repetition of the information before they could retain it. Participants learning on a hard book were able to understand the material more fully, meaning they were able to know the material so well that it just came to them.

Researchers think the problem with e-books could have to do with the lack of physical landmarks or associations that a person’s memory can use to help recall information. After all, it is just a blank screen with words that you read down. There is no right or left side of the page and some e-books don’t even have page numbers.

A recent article in Time magazine reports, “This seems irrelevant at first, but spatial context may be particularly important because evolution may have shaped the mind to easily recall location cues so we can find our way around. That’s why great memorizers since antiquity have used a trick called the ‘method of loci’ to associate facts they want to remember with places in spaces they already know, like rooms in their childhood home.”

Other studies by Jakob Nielsen, Web usability consultant and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, show that smaller screens make reading material less memorable and typing or scrolling back to search for something is more distracting than turning the page. Nielsen told Time magazine: “Human short-term memory is extremely volatile and weak. That’s why there’s a huge benefit from being able to glance [across a page or two] and see [everything] simultaneously.”

Further studies are needed to show the types of learning material best suited for digital books. But it does make me wonder if an e-book called Improve Your Memory actually works

I’ve never been there

Have you ever wondered how eerie it is that we all know exactly how everything everywhere looks – even if we’ve never been there? From Domus is the world more worn out now that we have digital than when someone said “the monuments of Europe are being worn away with Kodak cameras” Its ironic Kodak is no more but we are still capturing everything – its like we are obsessed with where we are not? A bit like the joke that an Internet cafe is where people go to talk to people who aren’t there while ignoring those who are.

Andrea Bosio explores territories of the new pixelated reality, compiling a true photographic record of different points of observation in the virtual space. A photo-essay by Andrea Bosio

Saint Exupéry airport, Lyon, France (Santiago Calatrava)

What could previously only be achieved by personal in situ experience, picturesque postcards or the numerous photo-reports is today within reach of hand and eye thanks to computers and new-generation smart phones. A large slice of the planet, mainly the urbanised areas, has literally been broken down into millions of frames, collected arbitrarily without choosing a specific subject, and recomposed with software into one continuous surfable vision. The picture of the surroundings is created via a photographic-mapping method that is methodical and mechanical. The adoption of specific technology and its equally precise application allows us to visualise the attained result on a monitor and “surf” the images. We are able to experience the reality in an objective and non-interpretative portrayal. This is a new way to enjoy a new image of reality

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, USA (Frank O. Gehry)

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Sunni Brown’s visual persuasion – Doodling & Creativity

Being a user of mind-maps, fast sketches and doodles  the translation to mainstream use and the removal of the frustration people experience with drawing you all know,  or are people who say “I can’t draw” this should open your mind to how you can use words and sketchessquiggles and lots of interesting colours to find and make your ideas communicable and fun. From DAILY MAVERICK

In the beginning there was the word and the word was good. Better than good in fact, it was aloof, if not arrogant and proud. Written language was deemed to be a sign of elitism and intellect, and so it became de rigueur that if you were a child you went to school, and learnt letters and words and sentences. And when you doodled in your work book, your teacher told you to stop making a mess and get back to the real business of learning.

Photo: Examples of doodles Sunni has done for corporate clients. 

Sunni Brown is a visual revolutionary who wants to change all that. Why do words inevitably get the upper hand, Brown asks. “There are a lot of different takes on why we have verbal dominance. Historically, literacy, verbal and spoken language has been associated with a certain level of status and economic class. If you are educated, have the capacity to communicate and interpret language, this somehow makes you more intelligent than other people. You become part of an elite group of people,” says Brown.

Human beings are moreover heavily visually orientated, but despite this, for the longest time text has dominated visuals. “People haven’t made the connection between doodling and thinking, or sketching and problem solving, or visual language and creativity. I don’t think we understand how to apply visual language, and this misunderstanding is a consequence of having a cultural aversion to visual language, which is perhaps related to the historical classism. But that’s just a theory – I haven’t done enough research to offer a definitive answer.”

Photo: Sunni Brown teaches us to make the connection between doodling and thinking, sketching and problem solving. Applying visual language to life.

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Invisible Fields

From Domus An interview from Barcelona by Ethel Baraona Pohl

I  see this exhibition, which I will only be able to see by means of its representation in images from cyberspace, as a tangible sign of the distorted relationship we have the technologies which both bind and isolate us. A the very time we see this massive increase in invisible wave and electromagnetic fields filling all the available space we are made aware by microbiologists that we were always surrounded by fields of the microbial clouds that make up our atmosphere and the rhizosphere below it and permeate our bodies and all the objects that make up the biosphere. Ironically both these large scale urban electromagnetic fields and our fossil fuel  activities,  themselves the results of ancient sunlight stored by living organisms,  have polluted and killed off incomprehensible numbers of the very microbes we depend on for our livelihood in the soils and atmosphere and in our bodies (seeInteractivos? Garage Astrobiology – Microbes and EMF. 

Maybe it is time we became aware of this relationship – is it in fact not more important of our survival than these transient communication waves – after all when we examine what is being transmitted how much of it has any real value. In the words of Frank Zappa talking about Television : “I may be vile and pernicious , but you can’t look away! Don’t touch that dial folks, I’m the slime oozing out of your TV set,”

I s this what these fields contain and imply – our serfdom to the consumption system – or our empowerment to resist and reform it?

Clara Boj and Diego Diaz, Observatorio, Interactive installation, 2008

We inhabit intangible territories. The networks of invisible infrastructures which surrounds our world are extensive and growing day by day. In this context, Invisible Fields explores how the understanding of our world and our cosmos has been transformed by the study of radio waves. For a better understanding of this concept, José Luis de Vicente and Honor Harger have curated the exhibition starting with the invention of telecommunication technology at the end of the 19th century, and explaining how the radio spectrum became a tool for rethinking the world we live in. A world within an enigmatic landscape where there’s no geographical distance and is based on technologies of information and communication.

On this context of enigmatic topologies which has been there for more than a century, the projects presented at this exhibition simply makes visible the territories created by invisible waves. As Lucy Bullivant pointed in 2005 [1]:

“Electromagnetic space—also called Hertzian space—is physical and nonvirtual. It consists of a ghostly poetic ecology that exists just beyond our familiar perceptual limits.”

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As brain pathways deteriorate, so does our memory

Memory loss with aging especially short term memory – the kind that makes us forget peoples names and that makes my 92 year old mom repeat her stories to us over and over, are common to us all as we get on in life, and research such as reported here from John Hopkins University is interesting, but I am concerned that the focus of research is on cures and mitigation with drugs, is there any work here or elsewhere that is investigating the role of use of the brain, memory exercises and even possibly dietary issues in reduction of brain pathway deterioration?


The role of memory in our experience of our interaction with the city and ability of older people to access the city and use it with confidence as well as how to design way-finding and legibility  within local urban areas and buildings is still a little explored area of research. As the average age of urban populations in urban environments increases it will become more essential for designers to build places that we can negotiate without fear in order to have the vibrant streets and safe cities of the future we desire , our initial understanding of way-finding and its importance in the urban context comes from Kevin Lynch ‘s  1960’s book  The image of the city”,  later research and similar work being done in urban environments is well documented in the article from UD E-World on Wayfinding,  which also lists the work of Bill Hillier, Julienne Hanson and colleagues at The BartlettUniversity College London and Space as well as IDeA Centre for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access : I would like to hear form anyone who can provide information or links to practical research in this field.

This article from by Christina Hernandez shows the types of medical based research that is being carried out 
“Can’t remember where you parked the car? Blame it on your aging brain pathways.

Research out of Johns Hopkins University shows why our memory falters as we grow older
Pathways to the brain’s hippocampus degrade — by as much as 20 percent — as we age. I spoke recently with Michael Yassa, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences and lead author on the paper in PNAS, about the work — and how it could eventually help Alzheimer’s disease patients.

How did you conduct this research?

[These pathways are] how bits of the brain communicate with each other. If you have input coming in through your eyes or ears, it gets filtered through those pathways before it gets to the part of your brain that stores memories. Early on, we tried to look for evidence of this specific pathway that leads into the hippocampus because people haven’t been able to get an anatomical way to look at it [in humans]. It’s very small and tucked among other fibers going in different directions.

We tried to find a way to use technology called diffusion imaging. We were able to use a high spatial resolution to look at things in far more detail. Once we do that, we can see evidence of this pathway if we restrict our field of view to a specific direction. We know from anatomical studies in the rodent and some primates exactly where this should be. Using a bit of fancy math, we’re able to get a signature of that pathway. We were able to quantify this — basically use a measurement scheme to see what degree to which this pathway is intact in young individuals and older individuals. We found that, as you get older, there is a clear degradation in this pathway.”

Read the full article here:

Additional Resources: 

Integrating space syntax in wayfinding analysisAnna Maria Nenci, Renato Troffa, Lumsa University, Rome, University of Rome La Sapienza 

Architectural Wayfinding Design 

Places of Wellbeing : Light & Health Q&A: Rosalyn Cama

By Susan S. Szenasy in  METROPOLIS MAG.COM

RCama5x7finalWhen I heard that Rosalyn Cama, principal of the New Haven firm, CAMA, Inc., was about to speak at Lightfair (Philadelphia, May 17-19) I jumped at the chance to engage her in conversation about the relationship of light and health.  My motivation was strictly personal. I’ve spent enough time in hospitals, both as a patient and frequent visitor, to know the dismal conditions in these sealed, dank, germ-ridden buildings where you go to get cured of what ails you, and can come away with some bug or another. And as someone who spends too much time staring at computer screens in darkened rooms and whose every cell is screaming for sunlight and fresh air, I, personally wanted to take advantage of Ros’ special learning as an interior designer, researcher, and consultant in the healthcare field (she is the author of Evidence-Based Healthcare Design, John Wiley & Sons, 2009).  Hospitals, as I see them, are the extreme environments of our times. If we solve some of our health, safety, and welfare problems in these places we can begin to understand what it takes to design all kinds of healthy interiors. Here Ros talks about why lighting design is key to human health.

dublin-lobby-panThe lobby of the Dublin Methodist Hospital project (Karlsberger/CAMA). Continue reading

In a sentient city, what is public or private?

By Andrew Nusca of smartplanet reports on the evolving discussion of how technology is influencing life in the city….for better or for worse? In particular the issue of changing the relationships of people around their interests rather than their location, is of primary concern –  the inherent danger of this is people become more and more immersed in their narrow focus, meet only those of like mind and become further alienated from whole sectors of the physical location they inhabit – this is potentially why the physical public realm is still the key to as functional society, one in which “The quintessential characteristic of urban life, as urban theory since Simmel has pointed out, is that urbanites are to live together with strangers who not only will remain strangers, but may also have a completely different outlook on life. Yet somehow, all citizens have to find a way to work things out. The public sphere plays an important role in this. It is here that strangers are confronted with each other, become aware of one another and have to come to terms with each other. [6]”

To define the “Sentient City,” researcher Martijn de Waal quotes artist and architect Mark Shepard, who calls it the manifestation of “dataclouds of 21st century urban space” that shape the experience of those in it.

De Waal himself describes it as a city studded with intelligent technologies that sense the activity around them and, most importantly, react to it — from traffic signals to the streets themselves.

And because the smartphone — that portable, sensor-filled brick of Internet-connected intelligence — is ubiquitous, it has taken just about a decade for the city to become truly sentient.

For now, it’s an ad hoc approach: all those sensors are privately owned and operated, moving around the city but not necessarily contributing to the same platforms. (Though Facebook and others are certainly trying to unify these actions, fueled by a race for advertising dollars.) In this case, sentience is not a centralized effort; it’s an organic one arising from people’s pockets.

But how will this sudden sentience change the way we experience a city? Specifically, what becomes a part of the public sphere — and what does not? Continue reading

Wall to Wall: The Digital Landscape

How will we respond to increasing commercial pressure to integrate with our phones etc. what is it doing to our cities and our lives?Will they really make it more interesting – or more everywhere the same as we lose location- sliding in and out of the  matrix ? By Andrzej Zarzycki on AB 

Graz Art Museum media façade, Graz, Austria.

For better or worse, digital technologies — smartphones, LEDs, social networking — are changing our cityscapes.

By Andrzej Zarzycki

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“Foursquare is all about helping you find new ways to explore the city. Earn points and unlock badges for discovering new places, doing new things, and meeting new people.” Continue reading

Sustainable Mobility in Future Cities

A further view of the Exhibition Our Cites Ourselves reviewed earlier, POSTED BYJIMENA VELOZ – some cool images  on thisbigcity 

The exhibition Our Cities, Ourselves commissioned 10 architects to imagine how a specific area of their cities should be transformed towards 2030, when the global urban population is expected to be 60 percent. All of the renovation projects explore how cities would be if they were redesigned for people, not cars, and follow principles for sustainable mobility drafted by Jan Gehl and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Most projects seek to create more public space and introduce alternative transportation to solve pressing issues in the selected cities.

The Brooklyn Bridge in New York City is projected as car-free, and retrofitted for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Another aim of the transformation is to build public space at both ends of the bridge and turn Lower Manhattan into an eco-zone with clean transportation.

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