Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is Technology Eroding our Memories? Part 1

This is the Google Side of Your Brain: This article, which is from a couple of months ago on USAToday, contains some fascinating comments about how Google may be taking the place of our memories. Instead of remembering facts, when we have Google, we can just look it up.

In some senses, this is probably true in a growing segment of the population. But I don’t think the Internet is necessarily turning us all into dolts either. I and many other people use the Internet to expand our memorized knowledge on a regular basis.

Case in point: regular emails and RSS feeds that help us learn new things on an ongoing basis. Bookmarked sites that we check regularly to see what’s going on in a particular area of the world. These sorts of devices help us to actively expand our knowledge in a way we’ve chosen to have our knowledge expanded. They help our memories to get an ongoing sense of what’s going on in a particular area.

For instance, I know I’m bad about ignoring the news of the world, so if I didn’t get email news to let me know what’s going on in various parts of the world, I’d never be aware of what was going on. I still ignore the emails at times, but I remember more of what goes on in the world because I’m getting the emails. My memory might not be exact about what the articles said because I can mostly find them again through a search, but that doesn’t mean my knowledge and memory haven’t been slowly built by them.

Same goes for the poem a day I get from Minnesota Public Radio’s Writer’s Almanac. Because a poem a day appears in my inbox, I gradually get a sense of modern poetry I may not otherwise get around to seeking out. I remember the poems I like, and others I just absorb. Mostly I just bask in them, but somehow I remember bits of the ones I like and, since the poems are chosen well, I, over time, expand my knowledge of poetry as a whole.

There are lots of other examples, but my point is that the Internet can cut two ways when it comes to our memories—it can erode them, but it can also help us build them.

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