Thursday, March 4, 2010

Is Memory Obsolete? Or is this a crisis of National Memory Failure?

Google recently announced that in three years time the desktop will be obsolete. Perhaps we are just steps away from all memory stored outside of the Internet being obsolete? Why can't I just plug my brain into the Internet and skip all of this gadgetry nonsense anyway?

We haven't figured out how to do that yet, (though scientist are working on it) and until then we are plugged in through our technical interfaces like, laptops, iPhones and Palm's etc...

In fact, we are so plugged in, that our brains are rewiring in very mysterious ways.

 don’t know about you, but I have noticed some unusual patterns in my regular habits that I question:
First, I have a long distance friend who I adore and was very close to at one time, a real friend. Yet, I have trouble visualizing her face, however, I am able to recall her last three Facebook pictures (at least). I do not feel good about this.
Second, after I meet with friends, I absentmindedly forget half of what we talked about because I know that any significant event (and all the insignificant ones too) will be posted on Facebook and/or tweeted, and because I use tweetdeck (among other programs) I won’t miss it in the thunder of status updates.
Third, birthday reminders, I forget those too because they all come through Facebook. I can hardly remember the last time I received a hard copy birthday card from friends my age anyway (except this one friend…hmmm what is up with her?).
Fourth, I don’t know phone numbers because I’ve programmed everyone on speed dial, 1, 2 or 3 and so on, or, I can just type names in.
Fifth, there are lots of words that I will know if they are used in a sentence, but if you ask me directly, what is “dystopia,” I may get confused and not be totally sure. I don’t remember ever feeling that way about words before, it just crept up on me. I’ll see a word and it will fail to totally connect, but I’ll have the presence of mind to type, define:”dystopia” into Google, after which, I’ll feel much better and be much the wiser.
So it seems, Google, social media and hi-tech gadgetry has replaced the need for me to have a memory of any concrete or impressive depth in perhaps too many instances. (Small note: I know what you’re thinking, I am not a genius, but I am not a doofus either, so go easy on the wise cracks!) The point is, being wired constantly allows us, indeed encourages us, to remember how to find information yet not ingest the actual information, less still, analyze the information we have just read or heard. Thank God so many of us are wired everywhere.
Right? Or is this really creepy.
I think it might be creepy.
Now lets examine the question of memory in the digital age on a wider sphere, a macrosphere if you will. Headline news, you may recall, used to be something that happened once a day – in the morning when you read your paper. Then, TV came in and there could be breaking news in the morning, at lunch and while you’re eating dinner and listening to Katie Couric. Now, there’s Twitter!! (Cue drumroll and flashy music please.) Twitter is a great tool in many ways, but it seems reporters are tripping all over themselves to be the first to find a headline, anyheadline and be the first to tweet it. Important events must happen every hour throughout the day, every single day on Twitter, thus in news outlets. This cycle of never ending drama or false drama, leads consumers into a state of confusion about what is really important and contributes to a sort of national memory failure (NMF). In the past, our national memories failed to recall key events (eg: that we wiped out Native Americans) but the memory spantoday is MUCH more narrow. We are forgetting sometimes crucial information in record time:
The banks are doing exactly what they did BEFORE the financial collapse (roughly one year ago). This is clearly some sort of digital amnesia on the part of the banks, AND the people who have their money in these banks otherwise action would be taken. (Right?)
- Workers who have jobs fearfully forget that it’s four hours past the time they should have gone home, or that it’s the weekend or that they are on holiday and respond to urgent emails, letters or notices at all hours.
- With one of the world’s strongest earthquakes hitting Chile, Haiti has been obliterated from our minds.
- In our worry about finance, health and some miscalculation in the science labs we have forgotten there is a global climate change issue or just generally that we might not want to trash the place we live in. (Must be that NMF).
- We were just thinking about Ed McMahon when Jeff Goldblum AND Farah Fawcett died,which we promptly forgot about because Michael Jackson died. Of course it turned out Jeff Goldblum was not really dead, though I’m certain some people still think he is.
- Not that this is any of our business, but it has been reported as news, (shrug) and I challenge anyone to try to remember all of Tiger Woods mistresses (though I doubt he could either).
- Many of us watched Food Inc. decided not to eat meat the next day, then promptly forgot why we decided that in the first place.
- We have collectively forgotten how to grow food in lieu of knowing how to tweet using programs like Bit.lyTweetdeck and Twhirl. Most of us have forgotten how to cook, REALLY cook, and make fresh bread, yogurt, pasta, cheese etc… Many of us can barely cook a casserole. We know take out, microwave, or prepackaged in 10 minutes or less with instructions.
In our absence of memory (NMF), we the people not only increasingly rely on gadgets and technology but we also rely on “EXPERTS” to tell us what we would like to do with our life, how best to live it, and what stuff to fill it with. These same experts seem to be doing very well with million dollar bonuses while the we are losing our homes and facing 30% unemployment.
That is a bit creepy eh? I would conjecture that we do indeed have a bug, a sort of memory virus and it’s gaining strength.
It makes me think of the recent power outage at my apartment. The world suddenly felt so quiet. No whine of the computer, no hum of the fridge, soft candlelight glow, no need to check email because I physically couldn’t, (except on my phone but I resisted). And I felt my body instantly relax. The tension I didn’t know I had, unfurled from my forehead. I concentrated on my breath. I felt Fanfrickintastic! Wonderful! Amazing!
And then the power came back on. To my dismay.
In that story lies what I think is the cure for our bug – good old fashioned discipline! We have the ability to unplug, so that we remember at least a few of the most essential things. (Yes, it might be nice to put the Blackberry down while talking with your child.) We have the power! Lets do it! We can do it! We can restore our memory and take steps to shape a better world.
But, let me just send this one more tweet before I do that….

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