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Gone and Forgotten

Gone and Forgotten

Remember the good old days? Back when memory referred to - the info that was stored in your brain and not your mobile phone? Me neither . . .

Etched in my brain for several years now has been the conclusion of an American researcher who believed technology was killing our memory. For the life of me I cannot remember his name. Which, I suppose, partially proves his point.

Yet it has never been a theory to which I have subscribed. Technology might make us lazy or more efficient, (I am thinking of the TV remote control here), but not forgetful.

Not withstanding the onset of old age, I reckon my old grey matter ticks along reasonably well within the boundaries my Maker gave me. Then last week came two discoveries to make me reassess the technology versus memory situation.

Firstly, my wife declared that despite the fact I have had the same mobile phone number for more than five years, she could not remember it if her life depended on it. Which, thankfully, it doesn't.

Then, in a bizarre episode, I was leaving a colleague a voicemail and I could not remember my own four-digit extension number. While I excuse this pathetic effort by saying I spend more of my time trying to remember Qantas departure times (who bothers with flight numbers?) than anything else, my lapsing noggin has given me reason to stop and reassess the theory that technology diminishes the memory.

If you go to a few crackpot Web sites, you'll see a thousand theories on how computers are our enemy, and if we treat them as friends they will destroy us and our brains. If you buy into that nonsense just for fun for a moment, then perhaps the greatest Weapon of Mind Disruption (WMDs) is the mobile phone.

A quick survey around a dinner table of six the other night revealed that every single person could remember their telephone when they were a kid; but no one could recite the extension number of their employer. Everyone hits the quick-dial key, of course; or avoids calling boss.

Most of us walk around with a PIN in our head so we can get cash from the hole-in-the-wall. On reflection, though, I do not so much remember the numbers as the little dance my fingers play on the ATM keypad. And even this basic use of memory may disappear shortly with the emergence of contact-less, smart credit cards. You won't tap in a number but wave a silicon chip at a reader.

These cards are so smart they undoubtedly hold the potential to make us more stupid.

They are increasingly popular in Europe and we'll be seeing much more of them down here in the next couple of years. But then, we have been predicting the dawn of mass smartcard adoption for so long, anyone could be forgiven for forgetting when the hype began.

Meanwhile in Britain, you will soon be excused for not knowing where you were last week, or even last night. Its government plans to store all its CCTV footage. Part of its game plan is to capture video of cars as they enter toll-zones. Up to two years of traffic footage will be stored - offering the potential, among other things, to make a TV show slightly more interesting than Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

And if you were a fervent night-clubber in Barcelona, you might have elected to have had an RFID chip injected into your forearm, just in case you forgot your name and age. (You'll have to imagine the circumstances in which that might happen.)

Our reliance on technology instead of our brain became painfully obvious recently when we decided the Commonwealth Games were more important than keeping our clocks in synchronization with Microsoft Mean Time (MMT). While other countries adjusted their times around their respective winter and summer seasons, we refused to budge for a week.

The result was pretty funny. Some people applied a patch that fixed things; others did not, or could not, and their Outlook calendar software and computer clock ran an hour late. We had a national fiasco of people arriving late or early for meetings. And what does that tell us - we rely on our computers to tell us where to go, not our brains.

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