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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Phaedrus Would Love My Q Phone

AHN:

A Japanese study has found that people are now becoming dependent on computers and mobile phones, resulting in our brains being understimulated, which can cause severe memory problems.

The study, carried out by a team of researchers at a Japanese university, says that in today's world, people's reliance on electronic devices for even the simplest tasks is dulling our minds.

A recently released report says that in the United Kingdom, one fourth of the population doesn't know their phone numbers at home and about one third only knows and memorizes important anniversaries and birthdates.

According to the study, thanks to the increasing use of computers to store information, adults in their 50s and 60s have better memory capacity rather than people in their 30s and below, who have grown up with computers and other devices.

Ancient dead Greek guy:

At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them.

It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create 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 know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Perhaps I as an individual have worse memory for specific details than I would have if I trained my mind like some sort of Mentat, but I fail to see that as a good criticism of any technological aid, from clay and cuneiform to pen and paper to silicon chips and computer circuits.  Collectively such inventions allow us to have a societal storage whose value, when compiled of personal recollection and understanding, is well beyond any singular storage.

As James Burke noted in The Day The Universe Changed, for a long time human knowledge and understanding was limited to personal experience that extended no more than maybe 20 miles from home.  True, expanded access to information hasn't necessarily lead to greater wisdom, but how else can we even try to realize our potential as sentient beings if we don't outsource some of our information collection and network our brains?

I think of my memory as merely an initialization vector, a collection of pointers.  I remember some important, more immediate things that are germane to my daily existence, and the rest are links that say "click here for more."  So I know I read something somewhere about a story wherein somebody was bitching about writing fucking with our memories, then I google it and find Plato's scribblings that I once read long ago.  Thus I reinforce this memory as well as bring it to you.

Is that not a good thing?  Are we not devo?

ntodd

July 19, 2007 | Permalink

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Comments

Whatever works for you, I guess-- I find it kind of sad that people wouldn't *care* enough to carry birthdays, anniversaries etc in their own heads.
It is awfully easy to get there, though-- a few years ago, I used a rotary dial phone for the first time in practically forever, and I had to stop and redial because it took too long for that stupid dial to reset and I lost my place in the phone number. I still find that vaguely embarassing.

Posted by: nick carraway | Jul 20, 2007 12:24:30 AM

I'm the one in our fam who DOES care and carry anniversaries, birthdays, etc, in my head. It all carries personal significance for me.

But that's the point, actually. Only so much is significant, and the rest is stuff that can easily be written down elsewhere. Even significant stuff can be lost in the recesses of memory, which is why it's a good thing to record things like crop yields and such...drivers for writing in the first place. Is it wrong to keep track of grain? Recipes for beer? When certain stars appear in the sky?

Posted by: NTodd | Jul 20, 2007 1:12:55 AM

Adding: in the olden days, I might have been able to keep track of appointments and other obligations when they were on fairly coarse time bounds. But if I'm expected to deal with multiple threads of responsibility, with several meetings during the day and week, and complex projects requiring interactions with different individuals and/or departments, a little assistance would be nice.

The modern world, for good or ill, is a just a tad more complicated than what Socrates, Plato or Phaedrus had to deal with...

Posted by: NTodd | Jul 20, 2007 1:15:05 AM

Yeah, I agree with what you've said- you can't carry *everything* in your head- it's just a lot of the electronic life ends up shortening attention spans and increasing the demand for immediate results. It just seems like the kind of thing that would catch up with us someday.

Posted by: nick carraway | Jul 20, 2007 9:41:33 AM

Indeed. And studies have shown that all our "productivity enhancement tools" are stressing us out, causing us to lose sleep and thus become less efficient.

Posted by: NTodd | Jul 20, 2007 5:23:32 PM

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