Memory Special: Is Technology Making Your Memory Worse?

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Helen Thomson in the 27 Oct 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” Previous healthymemory blog posts have implied that the answer to this question is worse. Thomson writes, “Outsourcing memories, for instance to pad and paper is nothing new, but it has become easier than ever to do using external devices, leading some to wonder whether our memories are suffering as a result.”

Taking pictures has become more of an obsession given the capabilities of smart phones to take and store high quality photos. Although you might think that taking pictures and sharing stories helps you to preserve memories of events, but the opposite is true. When Diana Tamir and her colleagues at Princeton University sent people out on tours, those encouraged to take pictures actually had a poorer memory of the tour at a later date. Prof. Tamir said, “Creating a hard copy of an experience through media leaves only a diminished copy in our own heads.” People who rely on a satellite navigation system to get around are also worse at working out where they have been than those who use maps.

The expectation of information being at our fingertips seems to have an effect. When we think of something that can be accessed later, regardless of whether we will be tested on it, we have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. Sam Gilbert of University College, London says, “These kinds of studies suggest that technology is changing our memories. We increasingly don’t need to remember content, but instead, where to find it.”

Unfortunately relying too heavily on devices can mess with our appreciation of how good our memory actually is. We are constantly making judgements about whether something is worth storing in mind. Will I remember this tomorrow? Does it need to be written down? Should I set a reminder? Meta-memory refers to our ability to understand and use our memory. Technology seems to screw it up.

People who can access the internet to help them answer general knowledge questions, such as “How does a zip work?” overestimate how much information they think they have remembered, as well as their knowledge of unrelated topics after the test,compared with people who answered questions without gong online. You lose touch with what you came from you and what came from the machine. This exacerbates the part of the Dunning-Krueger phenomena in which we think we know much more than we actually know. Gilbert says, “These are subtle biases that may not matter too much if you continue to have access to external resources. But if those resources disappear—in an exam, in an emergency, in a technological catastrophe—we may underestimate how much we would struggle without them. Having an accurate insight into how good your memory actually is, is just as important as having a good memory in the first place.”

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: