Despite what my grandmother insists on telling strangers, she has recently turned 85 but most importantly she has an impressive memory. She doesn’t just remember facts, she knows them and these are things she studied more than 70 years ago. She knows the details of what happened when the Roman Empire fell, entire poems, chemistry formulae she has never used in her life, and the list could go on forever. And okay, she has always been a diligent student but so was I, yet I cannot remember things I studied just a couple of years ago and for which I got good grades. I really do not think I am an isolated case and I believe this is a pattern in many families. I am now wondering: were the older generations overall smarter? or is this a consequence of differences in the school system? Maybe both hypotheses are correct, but regarding my situation, I think that my brain and I became lazy due to the awareness that any kind and amount of information can easily be found on my phones at any given moment. I surely know that I can always rely on Wikipedia and, since Google constantly improves, I often don’t even have to click on any websites as I immediately get answers to any of my questions.

Before writing this post, I vaguely remembered of an article (sorry to disappoint but it is not written in English. I’m sure Google can translate it for you though!) written by the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco about the importance of reading. Despite not being able to recall where the article was published or its title, after a very basic single Google search, I got hold of it in no time. Eco talks about ‘memory loss’ as an illness and I cannot deny it: I suffer from it. He compares the constant availability of the Internet to the possibility of taking a bus to go anywhere at any time and, consequently, forgetting how to walk as not anymore necessary. The metaphor is clear: the World Wide Web is our most used shortcut and forgetting how to walk equates to not exercising our long-term memory. I have also realised that I even tend to engage less with texts or any type of content that I find online as I know I can always rely on their availability later on, so it is not even just a problem of memory but also of concentration.

It is also true that times have changed since my grandma was in school and now, knowing certain things is not anymore necessary as jobs’ natures have evolved and things like being able to use Excel are recognised as being more relevant. From my understanding of the modern world (and it’s just my opinion so I might be wrong), practicality and reasoning are seen as being more valuable than theoretical knowledge – at least in most field and everyday life.

Nevertheless, it is a shame I do not remember things I spent time studying just because, subconsciously, the accessibility to the World Wide Web fights my ability to remember details in the long-term.

H.G. Wells believed that, by allowing constant access to information, a World Encyclopaedia would lead to a more knowledgeable and educated society. But now that we do have a World Brain, are we really more knowledgeable? Given the provided tools, I personally think that I do not reflect the outcome Wells had hoped for.

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3 Comments

  • T.L. van der Linden
    Posted September 24, 2019 at 11:29 pm 0Likes

    Thanks for writing this down! I do think you have an interesting topic here, if you would like to pursue it further in later blog posts.
    A suggestion of mine: look at where the influence of digital media ends and where more ‘tranditional’ causes of losing certain memories start. For example, in my experience we tend to easily forget things that we do not repeat, like learning vocabulary in a foreign language. Without repetedly using new words, we forget them. I see this also affecting you argument about forgetting shings you studied and got good grades for, did you (repeatedly) use the studied material after the test? I know that I remember material I am still using a whole lot better than material I never got to use again after a test.

    • Jeko
      Posted September 28, 2019 at 1:25 pm 0Likes

      Hi @T.L. and @ilsetheeternalstudent! Thank you for the suggestions and inputs 🙂
      We certainly don’t use most ‘general culture’ kind of information (like historical facts etc) in everyday life yet I still believe I should be able to remember certain things. What I wrote is very close to my personal experience and I also know that, as someone said during the class discussion, it is difficult if not impossible to know what I’d be like/how’d behave if something in my life was different than what I currently have – life it is no controlled experiment where variables can be easily changes, but I still think that the access to the WWW does have an impact in the way I personally engage with pieces of information. Then again, why do we merely focus on passing a test rather than remembering what was studied? The discussion could diverge into topics such as ‘faulty educational systems’ but I can also be argued that we don’t do that anymore since, in the digital era, that kind of knowledge is not valued as accessible at any time. It’s almost like when people debate on why we learn languages when we have Google Translate and hearing devices that produce instant translations are being developed.

  • ilsetheeternalstudent
    Posted September 25, 2019 at 3:36 pm 0Likes

    It’s a really article to read about memory, it’s definitely true that we have more access to information which might make us more lazy in remembering exact details, but I also think that T.L brought up an interesting point, that your grandmother might remember these poems and texts because over 70 years she constantly revisited them, whereas when we study for a test we often only try to pass a test and not actually try to put it in our long term memory

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