The declining value of memory

While I’ve always sucked at connecting names and faces and the past is just a blurry haze, I’ve always prided myself on remembering long strings of numbers, like credit cards, library membership numbers and a rolodex worth of phone numbers. I was my husband’s Blackberry before the Blackberry was created. “What’s that Delhi number again?” he would yell from upstairs for the biweekly call home.

Now my one remaining skill is also becoming redundant. A new free program called Roboform saves the password and login at every site I visit and chose to subscribe to. Not only do I not have to remember my user name and password, I can also choose to forget my name, address and phone number, secure in the knowledge that Roboform has my back. All that is required of me is remembering one master password and should I choose to tattoo it on a less visible part of my anatomy, I am all done.

Over the years, we have slowly been outsourcing our memories. Where once our Brahminical traditions required us to memorize lines and lines of verse and pass on our culture through story-telling from grandparent to grandchild, we now rely on the digital world to be our brains. All contact info is stored and backed up on the computer. Directions to places need no longer be imprinted on gooey gray matter; a GPS will take you where you want to go. My most repeated sentence these days to my children is “Look it up” as pages and pages of forgotten history, geography and science lessons are now available at the touch of a wiki-button.

This devaluation of memory is happening early these days. In school, where once we memorized ‘Daffodils’ and ‘Abu Ben Adam’( I still remember most of those poems and plenty of Kabir dohas), kids have access to online information and no longer need to memorize poetry, prose or math tables. Like a private in an army, all that is required of them is name, address and phone number. Pretty soon, the cell phones every kid seems to be carrying around these days will do even that job for them.

I wonder what is happening to all the memory cells of the brain that are now in disuse. As it is we were only using about 10% of our brains at any given time; now technology invites us to let those few cells go too. Are we simply turning into hosts for our machines? What we consider a symbiotic relationship today is slowly turning us into helpless creatures that would be lost without their PDAs ,PCs, GPSs and other similar electronic acronyms.

A company called Memory Lane offers people with memory loss a chance to recreate their memories in the form of videos, CDs and books and use them to reminisce. It is meant for the extremely aged and those suffering from Alzheimer’s but I suspect I will soon join the ranks of those signing up for the product to keep my memory offline. That is, if I can remember to.

2 thoughts on “The declining value of memory

  1. Shefaly

    Vidya:

    Very interesting post on a topic of eternal interest to me and many others!

    You wonder: “I wonder what is happening to all the memory cells of the brain that are now in disuse.”

    New technologies are requiring people to learn to use their brains in different ways. And the brain can be trained or rewired which is why there is so much research into cognitive rewiring and a few companies already working in the space. There is some evidence that shows the computer games for instance help autistic children, who have social interaction related problems. Likewise, in an information overload era, we are all learning new ways of raising ‘queries’ which requires us to be mentally more agile and connection-making than having access to an offline book or encyclopaedia might have done.

    I wrote about memory and memorisation some time ago and it may interest you:
    http://laviequotidienne.wordpress.com/2007/10/15/on-memory-and-memorisation/

    Thanks.

    Like

    Reply

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