Friday, February 10, 2006

Is Technology Eroding Our Memories? Part 2

I’ve been thinking more about to what extent technology builds and erodes our memories, and if it’s a change from before we had the technologies.

It’s true that, now that all my phone numbers are loaded on my cell phone, I remember very few phone numbers anymore. In a dead cell-phone survivalist situation, that wouldn’t be a good thing, necessarily.

And speaking of cell phones, they tend to be poorly used as memory devices at times. Take my friend’s brother, who is terrible with navigating but has to travel for work a lot, so every time he drives into a new city, he calls a family member to look up the maps and talk him through it. There’s something wrong about that.

So clearly, there’s some sort of erosion going on, as the article claims. But I wonder if it’s all that different from my father’s memory (hi dad!). He’s been claiming to have a terrible memory for years, but you ask him who was pitching in the 1981 Cubs game he attended and he’ll tell you exactly what happened during the game.

The point is that that we’ve always (some more than others) specialized in the kind of knowledge we remember. We’ve always had a huge body of knowledge out there that wasn’t in our heads, and we’ve always chosen what we want to retain.

I’m not entirely sure whether in general the amount of stuff we know in our heads has gotten smaller or not. What seems clear is that there’s a lot more information out there from which to pick and choose. Whether or not our memories have gotten worse, it could easily seem like they have in proportion to the body of information that’s out there. And what we remember has certainly changed in some ways.

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