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Computer memory: Is the human memory changing?

Lona Middleton
Staff Writer
lkemp@lhup.edu

person-apple-laptop-notebookAs the world becomes more digitally connected, the need to remember everything lessens. It is much easier on us to simply look up, or set up, reminders for important events such as birthdays, appointments or class schedules. The ease of access is mind boggling when you think about it. We are able to plan our lives out with constant reminders on smartphones, laptops, desktops and tablets. It has never been less necessary to remember information than it is right now. Before we get too excited about this, it may have a downside: the loss of ability to remember information the way we have for centuries.

It appears that with technology remembering the information for us, we retain less and less of it. Researchers like Saima Noreen of the University of London believe this “digital amnesia” is directly connected to our reliance on nontraditional methods of remembering information. Where we once wrote notes to ourselves, we now set alarms and alerts on a multitude of devices. Without the tactile reinforcement of writing, we tend to not remember information as well, or at all. We tend not to remember phone numbers now as our phones list them under a person’s name or picture. Can you recall your brother’s, sister’s, parents’ or significant other’s phone number right now? No? Don’t worry, research shows that between 71% and 91% of us can’t either.

Before we lament the loss of our memories and ability to recall important information, there also appears to be an upside to the abundant use of technology. This same research has also lead scientists to believe that our memories are becoming more like a transactive memory. Transactive memories are almost like a group mind. We use the Internet and computers as an extension of our personal memories because we understand that just because we don’t know something, there is someone out there that does. We also know that we have access to all this information in an instant so there is less of a need to remember huge amounts of data.

The best way to think about it is like an evolution of memory storage both personal and technological. There was a time when we needed the oral tradition to recall our history but then the written word was created and that lead to books. Now, we have digital information available at the touch of a button that is replacing the physical need for written reminders and paper information. Whether this is going to be good or bad for us in the long run is still up in the air. All we know for sure is that we don’t remember things the same as we once did.

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One comment on “Computer memory: Is the human memory changing?

  1. I agree with the idea of ‘digital amnesia’. I also think that as generations are now being raised spending more and more time in front of computers and gaming systems, the very logical system of opening and closing tabs and Windows, and the way in which programs are run and computer games are played ect are actually affecting the way the brain ‘naturally wires itself’ from a young age, and as a result, ‘thinks’ in a slightly different way than intended in ‘nature’. Thought processes follow the same ‘computery patterns’. You never really saw much autism and aspergers around before the digital age. A bit outside the box. But I reckon there’s truth in it.

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