Your Memory is Obsolete

Quick, who are the 5 main actors in The Usual Suspects?

  1. Kevin Spacey
  2. Benicio del Toro
  3. ???
  4. ???
  5. ???

When was the last time you had an argument about what actors were in what movie? Do they still happen with your friends? They don’t happen as much with mine. We have smartphones, so the web makes them irrelevant.

Let’s say I gave you the answer to the above. Would you remember it? I’m guessing it’s more like “Cool, I can get that answer from IMDB later if I need it.”

This is what we meant in Trust Agents when we said “memory is becoming obsolete.” Basically, the web remembers for you, so you don’t need to… almost for anything.

We don’t need to explain cool commercials anymore because we can just say “I’ll send it to you later.” We don’t make bets about who has the most home runs because it’s accessible to us immediately.

We use memory instead for remembering where something is, instead of what something is. It’s like we’re remembering the pointer instead of the actual data.

What I’m wondering is if it’s something I should be upset about.

Am I right that what it seems to do is cut off conversations? Because that’s a little how it feels. Instead of a discussion there is an interrupt as someone looks it up on Wikipedia.

Basically it’s like a gameshow where to ask Google instead of Alex Trebek.

Somehow not as fun, though.





16 responses to “Your Memory is Obsolete”

  1. Rick Avatar

    On Shaquille Oneill’s show last summer, he said basically the same thing. Maybe it was his night with Michael Phelps? He said why did he have to keep alot of trivial information in his head when he had a phone that could retrieve anything he needed? Made sense then, makes sense now.

  2. Jeff Goins Avatar

    Funny, I was immediately tempted to IMDB this…

  3. Tamsen Avatar

    Our memory as a whole isn’t obsolete. Certain aspects of it are. But that makes other things–the things that work to build trust–all the more memorable.

    The fact that I don’t have to consciously remember things I can now easily look up gives my brain more room to hold the ephemera, usually about people and how they interact, that I could never search on Google: How someone shakes my hand (or if they kiss cheeks instead), how they look, how often (and in what ways) they fidget, the way they stand, the timbre of their voice.

    In many ways it’s a move backwards in time–before we were overwhelmed with information in this Information Age, we had to pick and choose what to pay attention to, and what to retain. Now that’s a choice–and an empowering one.

    Perhaps the real question is: what do you *choose* to remember?

  4. Amber Cleveland Avatar
    Amber Cleveland

    I think the things you “choose” to remember are the things that matter to you. Even though I use my phone to store phone numbers or birthdays, I remember the ones that are most important to me AND I manually dial them or write them on a calendar still.

    Also, even though our phones and wikipedia can stop a conversation, it is only to the extent that we let them and it doesn’t prevent the next topic from starting. (It’s usually the phone ringing, email checking, tweeting and texting that cause more interference. I try to find balance with how I use it and to not use it at a dinner table)

    Thanks for bringing up the topic.

  5. Caspian Avatar

    I think this idea of shared memory through external storage is wonderful, because it makes us better at being social, and talking about things that actually matter, rather than having completely pointless arguments about trivia, or equally pointless, purely descriptive discussions about mass media products.

    This idea is (I believe) a classic Fordism. Henry Ford stated, many years ago that he didn’t need a university education as long as he had access to expertise. It’s an old concept. The thing is, the barrier for that kind of access is now much lower; you just need something that can get access to the internet, instead of the largest motor company in the world (at the time).

    This type of access does free your mind up from the barrage of useless facts and trivia out there. I don’t think that it really changes much in terms of how much we remember, though. Our capacity to remember things like gestures and “ephemera” is not really related to our capacity to remember trivia. One is completely sensory, the other is verbal only- it’s not derived from any direct experience. I think those two things are very separate parts of memory, and one has always been lower on the necessity scale than the other- we don’t need to remember bits of trivia to survive as a species, which is why we’re crap at it. We do, however need to remember how to navigate, and where the useful things are in the space around us, which used to be encoded in narrative or naming, and is becoming a far less refined skill because of our access to technology. The use of narrative is still there, and the memory hooks we use aren’t changing. It has always been just as much about the label and the pointer as it has the data, but trivia was nothing but a label or pointer.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s killed conversation- if anything, it’s made it necessary to know how to have a good conversation, because the conversation has to be more than a “remember in that movie, when (CHARACTER A) [said/did] that thing to (CHARACTER B or OBJECT A)? I don’t know if you recall how much of your discussions were about this before, but based on our shared circle of friends, I can guess that there were quite a few of those for a while.

  6. Judy Helfand Avatar

    Well, it is getting late and I almost forget what I intended to comment! I have the distinct feeling that I am the oldest among this group so far, so let me just say there was a time when we depended upon our brain and inate intellect to absorb information and store it for future use. I know the days of memorization are probably long gone, those days when we were expected to commit to memory multiplication tables, poetry, history, important dates, prayers, names, phone numbers, addresses, simple directions, equations, etc. The slide rule was carried in our notebooks, as opposed to the calculator. Somehow none of it seemed trivial, a gameboard was created and we pursued awards and championships playing it.
    Tonight I am thinking of a poem I had to memorize in the 5th grade: The Wreck of the Hesperus by Longfellow (22 stanzas). Come to think about it, this poem is really sort of frightening.
    I always thought that my generation spoke and talked about things that mattered, good conversations with a “point” of reference that formed the foundation for the discussion.
    One last item, memories, our own stories, are personal, and why we all know that the US went to the moon in the summer of 1969 (fact), it is the personal memory of such an event that gives it a reference point. You can read my story here if you so choose: Walk on the Moon Memories 40th Anniversary
    Julien is right. We had a lot of fun and exercised our brain.

  7. Robin Browne Avatar

    Google can’t help you remember people’s names you forget 30 seconds after you meet or the name of their kid they told you last week – both important trust building memories. Your smart phone can still come to the rescue though by recording their name right away in a text or voice message. Create your own personal Google for stuff like this by putting it in something searchable like Evernote.
    Anyway, thanks for the post….ah….what’s your name again?

  8. CT Moore Avatar

    You know, Einstein advocated never remembering what you could just look up, but Socrates never wrote anything down because he didn’t want the written word to ruin his memory. I think it comes down to self-sufficiency and how comfortable we are being reliant on someone/something else to do what matters to us.

    And BTW, without the Googles:

    1. Kevin Spacey
    2. Benicio del Toro
    3. Kevin Pollack
    4. Stephen Baldwin
    5. Gabriel Byrne

    1. Julien Avatar

      Hahaha, nice job Chris. I remembered Stephen Baldwin only after looking at the box. The rest, I couldn’t figure out. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Hugh Macken Avatar

    This reminds me of the debates that maybe still go on about letting kids use calculators in school. Does it limit the growth of their brains to some extent. I’m no expert but my guess is the answer is yes. When you don’t exercise your body, it becomes weak. When you don’t exercise your memory, it too becomes weak.

  10. Rufus Avatar

    I am fascinated by people who think the human brain can only hold so much before is explodes or starts losing stuff, like the brain is a hard drive that gets filled up. I tend to think the human brain is flexible and can probably hold an infinite amount of information. We just don’t know that limit because we tend to quit exercising it regularly at some point in our lives or we die before we reach capacity.

    But, what I know is the more we reply on external things like reference material, the less inclined we are to store it in our brains and the lazier we get at memorizing. We rationalize our sloth by saying “we don’t need to remember; it is stored somewhere else. I just need to know where to look.”

    But what if he Internet were to go away tomorrow and the only human beings alive were those who were taught to “look things up” instead of “learn things.” We’d all be doomed to die of exposure as the appointed committee of morons frantically clicked their keyboard keys to Google “how to make fire” and jiggled their cable connectors to a network that wasn’t there.

    I’ll keep storing facts and useless trivia in my head, thank you. Because when the grid fails, I’ll at least be able to circumnavigate the world by clock and fist if needed.

  11. Rufus Avatar

    Rely on, not reply on ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Dave Delaney Avatar

    I can’t believe you just dissed my man:

    I think you raise a great point Julien. It’s true, we totally rely on the web to answer our questions and share just about everything.

    When our sense of smell is finally indexed by Google assimilation will be complete.

  13. Michelle Sullivan Avatar

    I’m just in shock that you forgot my man Gabriel Byrne… (not to mention Kevin Pollack and one of the Baldwin boys .. which one again?)

    I wonder if this blog post is going to inspire some medical researching geek out there to try to figure out if the Internet is going to have a negative impact on alzheimer rates in the coming years …

    Gotta go. I’m off to do some memory exercises ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. John Meadows Avatar

    The discrete disconnected bits of information aren’t what’s important; it’s the assimilation of facts, and the discovery of connections between the facts, the ability to use information in a synthetic sense, which is truly important.

    You can look up information, but you can’t look up knowledge, or wisdom.

  15. Denis P van Chestein Avatar

    Why do I feel like I have to look at the bright side of things? I don’t know, really! But the thing is, I find comfort in thinking that while we may remember more the pointers nowadays than the actual data, that gives us easy and better access to more data to compare; hence, increased analytical capabilities… and hopefully, more sound opinions and more profound discussions…

    Moreover, with all those warehouses of data now well pointed at; maybe we can reflect a bit more on the way things (data)are stored, structured and represented (John Meadows said: “the discovery of connections”) and maybe, it’ll tell us a bit more about the nature of things or maybe, about the nature of us… and maybe, we’ll understand just a bit better who we are and the world we live in…

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