Things that caught our eye

Remembering and Forgetting in the Digital Age: Are Machines taking over those tasks for us?

6 Oct , 2014  | by:

Over the past year and a bit I’ve been looking at how the digitalization of information and – well – many other things are affecting how we, companies or the government remember and forget things and how law should react to this in order to ensure the right amount of information is remembered respectively forgotten. Not an easy task, as many different perspectives and interests are involved.

In 2011 Sparrow et al. wrote an interesting piece on how Google effects our memory, stating that over time we have started to forget the exact information but nonetheless still remember where that information can be found. Now to me that doesn’t seem to big of an issue, that way I think we can maybe even remember more than in the past, focussing on the more important information and leaving the rest aside. It let’s us prioritize. And prioritization has become an important asset, as we are subject to more and more information noise as technology evolves. Last week, on the other hand, Nick Rome wrote a piece asking: “Is Google making Students stupid?” (referring to another article: “Is Google making Us stupid?”). There has been a lot of talk about that and most of the time I – having grown up before Google was omnipresent in our lives – cannot imagine that Google and other machines and technology have such a huge impact on how we learn, remember and retrieve information. However, Rome quotes:

“All of this has unmistakable implications for the use of technology in classrooms: When do technologies free students to think about more interesting and complex questions, and when do they erode the very cognitive capacities they are meant to enhance? The effect of ubiquitous spell check and AutoCorrect software is a revealing example. Psychologists studying the formation of memories have found that the act of generating a word in your mind strengthens your capacity to remember it. When a computer automatically corrects a spelling mistake or offers a drop-down menu of options, we’re no longer forced to generate the correct spelling in our minds.”

On the other side, we have Facebook and other Sites filtering the information we see when we are online, choosing the perspective we take on life for us. They are deciding for us what is important to know what isn’t. These facts are definitely worrying, but the question is how do we change this while ensuring the usage of Google and Co. at the same time? If indeed this is affecting us as much as we think, we must ensure that kids and everyone else switch off technology for a while and remembers or start to learn the basics in life again. As Darwin said, after all it is about the survival of the fittest.

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