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Outsourcing Human Memory

There's an article in The Atlantic making its rounds 'round the blogosphere about the affects on the human mind of the Internet and its immediate information availability. The general idea is that with the advance of the Internet the very mechanisms of human thought are changing, affecting our attention spans and memories. Slate recently published two related articles - one about GPS and its effects on learning about our surroundings, and another about how we read online - that support this notion of technology standing in for our own brain function.

On Tuesday, I posted my short quiz about memorized phone numbers because I wanted to emphasize the dulling of this simple ability. I got to thinking about this after reading the Slate articles (but before The Alantic's piece) and wondering just how many people with GPS units forget simple directions after extended use. If this even happens, how long does it take? Is it different because of the different sensory experience that comes with driving around?

Sure, some people have a hard time remembering all sorts of small details, but I bet for most of my (admittedly few) readers, the idea of memorizing a phone number was commonplace before cell phones went everywhere with us. For my part, I used to know anywhere from three or four times as many phone numbers by memory as I know now. I don't personally have a GPS, but I know several folks who do. I wonder if they've found a tendency to rely on that more than an understanding of where, exactly, they are.

I'll be looking out for other ways in which we turn over our own brain functions to technology and other systems. I can only imagine what impacts yet-to-be-developed devices will have on the way we interact with and understand our history, our world around us, and ourselves.