I was talking on the phone with my mom the other day about street names. We were reminiscing about the names of the streets where we each grew up. Then we started talking about how we lived in different cities for years and drove the same roads day in and day out, yet couldn’t really remember the street names any more.
My mom was shocked that I could still remember my phone number from the first house I lived in (987-4354). The area code didn’t really matter because back then you rarely called outside of your area code. It was just too darn expensive. We started talking more about how we both have a head for numbers yet don’t know anyone’s phone number anymore. We don’t need to.
It started with address books where we would write down all of the pertinent information we needed to know about someone. It was always a handy reference. We move to speed dial and online contacts. Now, in the age of smart phones, if I don’t have a phone number stored in my cell phone, I can use voice search on Google to find it pretty quickly.
I used to carry a multitude of phone numbers in my head. Now, I’m lucky if I can remember my husband’s number (seriously). Is it that technology is making us dumber? Or are we simply maximizing our brain power by eliminating things we no longer need to remember and focusing on new things. Clearing the clutter, so to speak.
I noticed the same thing when I got married. I turned off certain parts of my brain. It wasn’t on purpose. I just found that I no longer had to worry about when my car needed an oil change. I didn’t have to worry about how to hang a mirror on to a wall. And I certainly didn’t have to troubleshoot any computer problems. Note: I can still do some of these things, if I choose.
So has it made me smarter? Has it freed up extra space in my brain and reallocated it to learning that organic chemistry reaction that I could never quite grasp back in college?
I’ve heard stories of people, particularly children, who have lost entire hemispheres of their brain due to injury or disease. In fact, it’s now a relatively common procedure for children with severe seizures that cannot be controlled through medication. The remarkable side effect of this type of surgery is that the children developing fairly normally. Personality and memory remain relatively untouched although there are usually some motor skill issues.
Losing half a brain and still excelling in life? Surely, I should be able to do that with my full brain especially since I can use my brain for more important tasks, like, well, what should we be using our brains for?
Some might argue that the technology designed to make our lives easier can actually make it more frustrating. Have you ever forgotten an important password or PIN? The one piece of information we need to remember is sometimes more difficult than remembering what we have stored and protected in the first place.
Comparing computer memory to human memory finds a lot of similarities. Like a computer, we have a short-term and long-term memory. Our long-term memory seems boundless and limitless. But our short-term memory has a finite capacity. As a result, we’re offloading more and more of our short-term stuff to technology and devices like smart phones. In theory, our long term memory remains intact (like my old phone number for which I have no use) and our short-term memory becomes freed up to handle more, or more relevant, to be exact.
I’d like to say technology simplifies my life by making me have to remember less. But then, we’re supposed to play memory games to help exercise our brain. So which is it? With a 3 year old, I still spend many of my days sleep deprived. Not only does this affect my short term memory, but I sometimes forget to take a shower. I’m sure by the time I’m rested enough to take care of myself, I’ll be too old to remember.
So I’ll be glad to keep using my phone, computer, husband’s brain, or whatever I can to offload some of the mindless drivel. I’m making room for all the things I know I’ll need to remember in the next few years: when it’s my turn to bake cupcakes, where Evan last left his Buzz Lightyear, and maybe let the dog out once in a while.