Personal Technology and Human Memory?

Technology is part of our day to day lives, and we may have started to depend on it in more ways than we may be aware.

There are a number of scientific studies done on this subject and they fall on both sides of the argument. We probably do not need a scientific study to know that there is a problem: if you own a relatively modern phone or smartphone, how many telephone numbers do you still remember? An anecdotal survey of family and friends told me that the number is mostly two to five and that it contrasts markedly with a decade or so ago.

Similarly, GPS navigation in cars has made driving easier, more accurate and safer (less U-turns I guess). However, do you find yourself still relying on it even after two or three trips to the same destination? We might attribute the memory loss to age, and yes, geographical aptitude varies from person to person, but it is undeniable that relying on GPS navigation has eroded the need to remember landmarks and to estimate distances.

Like the vestigial human appendix, if we don't use our memory, are we going to lose it?

I still remember the days when we would have structured knowledge references, with books, journals and page numbers catalogued on paper for use in references in writing. With modern sophisticated research tools and search engines, I find myself struggling to remember the names of books and authors. Of course, I can do a quick search on tags that I entered as I saved the references and find exactly what I am looking for, but am I not losing the ability to remember and, hence, structure the data in my mind? Or should our data be as fuzzy and unstructured as search algorithms want them?

Just as humans have generally lost survival skills in the wild, some fear that we will lose our 'wild' intellectual skills. Their argument follows that those with natural intellectual survival skills in the technology age (memory etc.) may hold an edge over the technology-dependent, making the case for keeping our thinking and remembering skills sharp.

Technophiles argue that since we did not lose our ability to walk or run with the advent of horse-drawn carriages or motor cars, our mental abilities will never be lost. This position assumes that with cheap technology available to almost everyone, why do we need to exercise our thinking muscles; and that if needed, those 'muscles' will re-grow very quickly.

In my opinion, both positions may be valid, but it just isn't that simple. The loss of mental faculties, as opposed to physical abilities, has a deeper influence on our conscious selves and who we are. In modern society, mental disabilities are more limiting to life than physical disabilities. So, the loss of mental abilities should have a profound effect on our well-being, equal to or more than any effect the loss of physical survival abilities had on our prehistoric ancestors.

Should we be prepared for the arrival of new industries in the near future: 'mental survival' camps and mental exercise peddlers?