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The downside of the outboard brain

The fate of human memory

Clive Thompson writes on a phenomenon I think about constantly: if you really do start entrusting all your ephemeral memory work to external systems, might your wetware start to atrophy?

Apparently, yes:

This summer, neuroscientist Ian Robertson polled 3,000 people and found that the younger ones were less able than their elders to recall standard personal info. When Robertson asked his subjects to tell them a relative's birth date, 87 percent of respondents over age 50 could recite it, while less than 40 percent of those under 30 could do so. And when he asked them their own phone number, fully one-third of the youngsters drew a blank. They had to whip out their handsets to look it up.

Haha, big joke, right? Not for me. Between me and TextExpander, only one of us knows my new VoIP number by heart. Without TE to paste it anywhere on command? Yep, I'd have to look up my own phone number. Sad.

But, Clive goes on:

My point is that the cyborg future is here. Almost without noticing it, we've outsourced important peripheral brain functions to the silicon around us.

And frankly, I kind of like it. I feel much smarter when I'm using the Internet as a mental plug-in during my daily chitchat...

And, in closing...

At the very least, I'd like to be able to remember my own phone number.

Now thinking that's something I might want to work on too.

shaunkelly's picture

Poor Experimental Design

This doesn't tell us anything about either age group's ability to remember anything but the specific set of information that the researchers decided was worth remembering. I'm going to go out on a limb here to suggest that research neuroscientists probably aren't in the MySpace generation, so of course that information is going to skew to information that's more worthwhile for people in their age group to remember.

This is such poor experimental design, it's not even worth keeping this study in your outboard brain.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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