Author: Mark Dixon
Friday, July 15, 2011
I was intrigued by the recent article in IEEE Spectrum entitled “The Web is Your New Memory.” The author, Erica Westly, observes:
The idea that the Internet has become a sort of “hive mind” is certainly not new, but researchers are still figuring out how the hive mind affects how our own minds work. A study published in today’s Science suggests that the Internet has changed how we remember facts. The study shows that the Web has become a sort of external hard drive for factual information. So instead of remembering specific details, such as who directed the film Casablanca (Michael Curtiz), we remember the name of the website where we can look up that information (IMDb).
That suits me just fine. I really admire my son who has a near-photographic memory, with an uncanny ability to remember a wide variety of facts and figures. I once worked for a fellow who could name and discuss every person who had ever coached or starred on any NCAA or NFL team, with the fluency of how a mother discusses her children.
However, I have always been one who was better at remembering how to look up stuff, rather than remember the details. I’m much better at carefully crafting an analysis report or creating a presentation focused on resolving a specific customer problem than with impressing folks at dinner with quick recall of esoteric facts. For me, cyberspace has indeed been a blessing for my way of thinking – a vast expansion to my short- and long-term memory. I keep my to do lists on line, I take almost all my notes on line, I study and annotate scriptures on line … the list goes on and on. In a way, this blog is as much an extension to my memory as anything. I often refer to back issues when researching subjects of interest.
So, Erica, I think you are spot on. But I take a bit of exception to Gary Small, whom you quote:
My guess is that you would see this effect in older subjects. The younger people may have grown up with this technology, but the digital immigrants are catching up.
I’m an old guy, many years removed from college. But I prefer to think the young folks are catching up with me. After all, I started college before floppy disks were invented … and my online storage has been expanding ever since.