There is an interesting talk at the LSE on Tuesday, 5th April 6:30
Once upon a time remembering was everything. Today, we have endless mountains of documents, the Internet and ever-present smart phones to store our memories. As our culture has transformed from one that was fundamentally based on internal memories to one that is fundamentally based on memories stored outside the brain, what are the implications for ourselves and for our society? What does it mean that weve lost our memory?
Joshua Foer studied evolutionary biology at Yale University and is now a freelance science journalist, writing for the National Geographic and New York Times among others. Researching an article on the U.S. Memory Championships, Foer became intrigued by the potential of his own memory. After just one year of training and learning about the art and science of memory, he won the following years Championship. Foer is the founder of the Athanasius Kircher Society, an organization dedicated to all things wondrous, curious and esoteric and the Atlas Obscura, an online travel guide to the worlds oddities. Moonwalking with Einstein is his first book.
Free to attend
Location and other details here
I wonder if he is arguing that new technologies and new forms of external storage are going to reduce our memories and improverish our lives? He wouldn’t be the first person to have this type of panic. I’m currently reading Stanislas Dehaene‘s excellent book Reading in the Brain. He points out that just these kind of worries and objections were raised about the invention of reading. In Plato’s Phadreus, the Egyptian king Thamus is skeptical about the new-fangled technology of heirglyphics
This discovery of yours will create a forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
One can just imagine some dusty headmaster muttering something similar about teenagers googling all their answer on their iphones. But the kicker is that literacy actually improve verbal memory. As the first generation of digital natives start moving through university and out into the real world, I’d put money on the fact that digital literacy will also have the same effect.
Of course, I don’t yet know if that is what Joshua Foer is going to argue (though i could probably google it.) Either way, his biographic makes it sound like this is going to be an interesting talk. And if he does come down on the side of the neo-luddites, I know what my question will be
Isn’t it too early to tell? Evidence clearly shows that learning to read improves visual memory. Why wouldn’t vastly improved digital literacy of digital natives have the same effect?
After all, to navigate in the vast sea of information that is the internet surely the average person needs a better memory than they ever did back in the days of broadsheets and television.
- Joshua Foer’s ‘Moonwalking With Einstein,’ on the nature of memory (singularityofascientist.wordpress.com)
- LA Event: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (boingboing.net)