How Smartphones are Replacing Human Memory?


In my Methodical American column this month, I noted that there’s not much need to memorize anything anymore because of the smartphones. Ask a high-schooler today to rattle off the presidents, the periodic table, or state capitals, and you’ll get a blank stare or a “Sure, let me grab my smartphone.” Google is always available. And when was the last time you had to memorize a phone number?
But we’ll never consult our phones for everything. Some things are so important we’ll have to pledge them to memory even if we reach the age of universal digital recovery. Here are a few of the life categories where the memory will always beat digital lookups:

The Cultural Factor

You can’t function for long in society without some basic grounding in history and culture. Without knowing these references, you won’t have the context to comprehend current events—or even know what you’re missing or what questions to ask. You won’t understand advertisements, editorials, or even news articles. And you won’t get anybody’s jokes. You’ll be unemployable and undatable.

The Security Factor

Clearly, our gadgets can go a long way toward eliminating the need to memorize passwords. Programs like Dashlane and LastPass autofill our login information on the Web sites we visit. And even fill in our credit card information when we buy something online. But you still have to unlock those programs each day by entering a master password—one you’ll have to memorize. That’s true of physical security, too: you can automate parts of it, but at the end of the line, there’s a physical key or card or fob. You have to know where to find it and how to use it.

The Lookup Factor

Our gadgets may always be able to call up information on demand—but only if you know how and where to look for it. You still have to understand how to use the tools of modern up-looking: like Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, or, What’s the other one? Oh, yeah Google.

lookup factor

The Frequency Factor

You access some details so often. Memorization is required simply because the sheer quantity of lookups would make your life grind to a halt. Spelling, for example. Looking up every word or directions to work each day or your school locker combination would do an actual number on your productivity.

The Productivity Factor

Even if your daily work requires something you could quickly look up, like molecular weights, stock symbols, or commonly prescribed drugs. Your work would bog down to a halt if you had to interrupt your flow every few minutes for a lookup. You need fluency in your own career facts to operate effectively.

The Social Factor

You’ll always have to know basic facts about your friends and family (and, of course, yourself). You should have instant access to your boss’s name, your spouse’s birthday, and the names of your best friend’s children. Fumbling to look them up electronically in a face-to-face situation would result in a lot of hurt feelings (and possibly unemployment).

Smartphones may reduce cognitive capacity.

No, smartphones do not make you dumber. But they can put a drain on our cognitive capacity. Thereby reducing our ability to complete tasks at hand, even if we are not using them at the time.
We have a finite capacity for cognitive processing. But we’re constantly surrounded by an overwhelming amount of information from signs, commercials, people around us, background noise, and our own thoughts. The reason, we can navigate this information overload is because we have the ability to only pay attention to a small amount of information at a time. And our brains learn which information it needs to watch for. This is why you might instantly notice your name being called on the loudspeaker in the middle of a busy airport.
Your brain helps you choose the stimuli relevant to your current situation, including both long- and short-term goals. The challenge is that because our smartphones are associated with so many of our appropriate activities. We can get to a point where a portion of our brain is always paying attention to the smartphone. Even if it’s not in our hands at the moment. If you’re in a work meeting, part of your mind could be paying attention to your phone because you know your kid might text you or you might get an important news update.
By always having a portion of our minds tuned into our smartphones. Our ability to entirely focus on, and enjoy, the task at hand is reduced.

What do you think?

Written by Muzammil Khan

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