According to recent research, we are remembering fewer and fewer basic facts these days.

“Neuroscientist Ian Robertson polled 3,000 people and found that the younger ones were less able than their elders to recall standard personal info. When Robertson asked his subjects to tell them a relative’s birth date, 87 percent of respondents over age 50 could recite it, while less than 40 percent of those under 30 could do so. And when he asked them their own phone number, fully one-third of the youngsters drew a blank. They had to whip out their handsets to look it up. That reflexive gesture — reaching into your pocket for the answer — tells the story in a nutshell. Younger Americans today are the first generation to grow up with go-everywhere gadgets and services that exist specifically to remember things so that we don’t have to: BlackBerrys, phones, thumb drives, Gmail.” (Clive Thompson)

We give up making an effort to remember information that can be retrieve online, by simply using a search engine.

“My point is that the cyborg future is here. Almost without noticing it, we’ve outsourced important peripheral brain functions to the silicon around us.

And frankly, I kind of like it. I feel much smarter when I’m using the Internet as a mental plug-in during my daily chitchat. Say you mention the movie Once: I’ve never seen it, but in 10 seconds I’ll have reviewed a summary of the plot, the actors, and its cultural impact. Machine memory even changes the way I communicate, because I continually stud my IMs with links, essentially impregnating my very words with extra intelligence.” You could argue that by offloading data onto silicon, we free our own gray matter for more germanely “human” tasks like brainstorming and daydreaming. What’s more, the perfect recall of silicon memory can be an enormous boon to thinking. For example, I’ve been blogging for four years, which means I’ve poured out about a million words’ worth of my thoughts online. This regularly produces the surreal and delightful experience of Googling a topic only to unearth an old post that I don’t even remember writing. The machine helps me rediscover things I’d forgotten I knew — it’s what author Cory Doctorow refers to as an “outboard brain.”(Clive Thompson)

“I consume, digest, and excrete information for a living. Whether I’m writing science fiction, editorials, columns, or tech books, whether I’m speaking from a podium or yammering down the phone at some poor reporter, my success depends on my ability to cite and connect disparate factoids at just the right moment.” (Cory Doctorow)

Could one be a veritable genius when on the grid and mentally crippled when not? Could an to much reliance on the “virtual memory” the Internet is offering shut down other important ways of understanding the world?

There’s another type of intelligence that comes not from rapid-fire pattern recognition but from slowly ingesting and retaining a lifetime’s worth of facts. You read about the discoveries of Madame Curie and the history of the countries bordering Iraq. You read War and Peace. Then you let it all ferment in the back of your mind for decades, until, bang, it suddenly coalesces into a brilliant insight. (If Afghanistan had stores of uranium, the Russians would’ve discovered nuclear energy before 1917!) We’ve come to think of human intelligence as being like an Intel processor, able to quickly analyze data and spot patterns. Maybe there’s just as much value in the ability to marinate in the seemingly trivial.

Of course, it’s probably not an either/or proposition. I want both: I want my organic brain to contain vast stores of knowledge and my silicon overmind to contain a stupidly huge amount more. (Clive Thompson)

Source: Wired

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