When Your Backup Brain (i.e., Technology) Takes On Primary Memory Functions

from the i'd-say-it's-bad,-but-my-computer-disagrees... dept

For years, we've talked about the idea that computers and the internet are becoming something of a backup or second brain. The more we use these technologies, the more we allow them to remember stuff for us -- knowing we can always track down that information. In fact, Clive Thompson's latest column is about how the generation of kids growing up online tend not to remember little things that older generations definitely remember, like phone numbers and birthdays. Why remember those things when they're easily stored away and easily accessed thanks to technology? While Thompson talks about how nice it is that he can feel much smarter while he's connected, he also worries that it makes him "mentally crippled" when not connected. There may be something to that idea. After all, a few years ago there was a story about Steve Mann, a professor who had been living his life with a wearable computing system for 20 years. At an airport, he was forced to take the apparatus off and immediately had trouble functioning normally. He had become so reliant on the technological enhancements, that being without them left him somewhat crippled. While few people will have reached that point, it's certainly suggestive of what happens if we become too reliant on those external backup brains. That's not to say we shouldn't be using technology for this purpose -- or even that it's not a good thing. However, we should be aware of what it means and potentially the impact should it go away (temporarily or permanently).

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  1. identicon
    NFG, 18 Oct 2007 @ 1:39am

    It makes sense

    Freeing your brain from the burden of memory frees it up to do things like search and crosslink. I accomplish more and faster with Google than I ever could with my memory. I don't even bookmark pages I find, 'cause I know I can find them again later.

    I used to remember phone numbers, now the only ones I remember are my work and my mobile, and only 'cause people ask me for them all the time. I mean, who even uses a phone? I'm more likely to remember an IP.

    I don't need to remember things, I just need to remember processes. I know how to find the information I need, and I know how to assemble that into a larger whole with the other things I find. Short term memory has become medium-term: It's there just long enough to finish something, and if I need to come back to it a year later, I'm learning it all over again. But fast!

    I don't remember PHP commands. I remember where I found them last time. I don't remember phone numbers, I remember how to work my phone, and I intuit how to work someone else's if the need arises. I don't remember passwords, my browser does that for me and I remember how to reset it if the browser breaks.

    It's all about the processes.

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