I first came across the phrase, "Prosthetic Memory", in an interview with William Gibson. In short, he is grateful that he can outsource his memories to the public collective (i.e. the Internet), so that he can use his brain power for other, more important things.
I'm not sure, however, if this is entirely a good thing. There have been numerous articles suggesting that our memory is becoming degraded by technology and that this is re-wiring our brains.
In school, we used to learn concepts and frameworks that could be used to solve problems. Now, we can get all our answers from Google, so we spend less time worrying about how knowledge is created and, instead, use ready-made answers. Somebody else out there has already tackled and solved it, so why not simply copy that? Who needs to learn mathematical principles, when we have calculators?
For centuries, training the memory has been considered as important as learning the arts and sciences. As far back as ancient Greece, memory skills were a foundation of higher education. True, they didn't have the Internet back then, so they needed it, but that ignores the benefits that come with having a keen memory and a sharp mind.
As wonderful as the Internet is, it can make us very lazy. We don't really need to remember stuff, when we know it's already out there (somewhere). It's tempting to outsource our memories entirely to this wonderful, global database in the ether.
But, therein lies the problem - it's in the "ether", which is a substance that is easily altered. How can I know that I'm getting information from a trusted source? Just as data on a page can be corrected, it can also be modified to suit a political purpose.
What concerns me is that our technology is making us sloppy. We put far more trust into "the wisdom of the crowd" than is warranted. The meme is the message! "Ink never refused paper" is more true today than it ever was - especially, when something goes viral and is accepted as truth.
The upshot of this is that we open ourselves to more manipulation. Propaganda is much easier in an environment in which people think less for themselves and accept what they read on a Web page.
Prosthetic memory is a double-edged sword. It offers convenience by relinquishing responsibility, but it erodes our cognition. In short, it dumbs us all down.
What do you think...?
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I usually think of memory as a brain capacity issue but now that my kids are in school I am finding out a lot more about how we learn. I now think of memory as a sensory issue.--Rebecca
When I read a physical book, I find that I can remember more of what I read than when I read an eBook. It has something to do with my memory using the location of something to help store and retrieve it. For instance, when I try to recall something I read, I am able to roughly locate which section and what part of the page I read it on. Since I can’t do this with eBooks, I need to jot down things I want to remember.
I recall reading that people who train to memorise long lists during competitions put each item in the list in a familiar place that they traverse, such as somewhere in their home, so that when they walk through the space they can recall all the items.
How many times have you had a memory triggered by a particular smell? Clearly, memories are recorded with olfactory cues.
Storing a memory requires a great deal of sensory input. The more senses we remove from the process – by making something “digital” and “weightless” – the more difficult it becomes to recall. Thereafter, we’ll need to rely more upon our technological tools to help us, since we have lost the means to trigger them.--David G. Wilson