Memory and technology

A little while back, Douglas Coupland had a great piece in the FT Magazine. He wrote about how he thought the internet was changing the way he thought — how his brain no longer bothered to retain trivia and occasionally — conditioned by phones, tablets and screens — he’d find himself looking for the time in the top right hand corner of a book. As Coupland says when we go to look something up on our phones we’re really saying, “Let me instantaneously consult with the sum total of accumulated human knowledge. It’ll take just two shakes.” But he isn’t totally negative about this trend, “I wonder if nostalgia for the 20th-century brain is a waste of time. WhiIe I may sometimes miss my pre-internet brain, I certainly don’t want it back.”

I’m with Doug — I think the internet has affected my brain but not in an altogether bad way and I think we’ll see lots of new tools that help us adapt to the change. I’ve been using Timehop for a while and although I wrote it off as a bit of fun when I first heard the idea (I think from their investor Andrew Parker) I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the possibility of digital memories since. Timehop is super simple. Each morning it shows you what you tweeted, where you checked in and any photographs you took on the same exact day for the past few years. It’s made me use social media in a slightly different way. I’ve started checking in on Swarm more often and it’s made Instagram more meaningful for me. I use social media more as a memory box than I used to.

I think there’s lots of potential for tech for good here too. See What I Mean are exploring the idea of memory boxes by customising their speech to image software with images and photos from a person’s past and then using them as a communication aid during the earlier stages of dementia.

It could be that rather than eroding our memories, technology could enhance them.

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