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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.

noone's picture

I don't think it's a fair comparison.

I think this is bogus science. The kinds of information that people have to know today is much different than two generations ago. I am glad that I don't have to remember phone numbers because it frees my brain up to learn more important stuff like Ruby on Rails, or Joomla. I know all the keywords and syntax of 3 different languages by memory. I can remember the URL of almost any site that I really find interesting. So what if I can't remember phone numbers and dates. I think it's less important to remember things than it is to be as fully creative as you can be at any given time. Personally I take the side of David Allen on this one, carrying around unneeded stuff in your head robs you of the focus you need for any given task.




An Oblique Strategy:
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