Is technology taking over our memory?

I can still remember the first it happened

I needed to ring my scatter-brained mum to remind her to bring home some milk. Not a life threatening situation but important enough to raise my anxiety levels. I stood on the spot, fuming with impotent rage because I could no longer remember my mum’s number and had left the repository of the precious information my so-called ‘smart’ phone on the desk at home unfortunately there isn’t an app to remind you that you’ve left your phone on your desk at home.

So here I was, desperately trying to remember the number that would once have been securely saved on my internal hard drive. For most of my childhood and years, I had prided myself on my excellent memory. I could recall, at will, the phone numbers of a raft of distant relative as well as birthdays and anniversaries. Sadly this was obviously no longer the case.

When did we outsource our memories to technological devices? Was it ever a conscious decision or is it one of the creeping insidious side effects of our march towards a world dominated by search engines and technological devices? Whether tech-savvy adolescents or those notorious neophytes, the boomers*, we no struggle to remember to remember the birthdays and phone numbers of more than a couple of our closest family and friends.

Of course this trend now goes well beyond a few dates and phone numbers. The advent of Google means that most of us have lose the ability to recall facts once thought to be the mark of an educated person. Who wrote Romeo and Juliet? No idea; lets Google it! Trivia nights are now more likely to be dominated by people furtively glancing at their hones rather than by the once-respected and sought-after master of the arcane and obscure.

In order to assess the significance of this trend towards the outsourcing of memory, we have to ask a couple of important questions. Firstly, it is inconsequential that we can no longer remember, without the aid of electronic devices, information that we once thought important enough to sear into our conscious memories? More worryingly, will this lead us to become so lazy that we fail to use those parts of our brain required for recalling information and engaging in higher-order thinking?

The answers to these questions may no be straightforward or simple, but they are worth more than the time it would take to type ‘losing my memory’ into a search engine.


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