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The Lost Art Of Remembering: Has Google Turned Our Minds To Mush?

From the Internet’s real-time encyclopedia of information to GPS navigators, new technology makes our brains work slower. But scientists show how we can kick our minds back into action.

The Lost Art Of Remembering: Has Google Turned Our Minds To Mush?
Fabio Sindici

It's all Google's fault! This is a recurring expression in conversations when we forget the name of a book or a movie, or fail to recall even the most obvious facts. In these scenarios, the problem is usually solved by reaching for a smartphone or computer keyboard to surf the web for the things we have forgotten.

But is this persistent memory loss really the fault of digital innovations that memorize information and data on our behalf? Or is this forgetfulness simply a farfetched stereotype about technology? "The Internet is altering the way we think and remember", says Nicholas Carr, author of the book "The Shallows'. "The continuous and superficial inducements that the Internet forces upon us cause a prolonged state of forgetfulness and distraction." Indeed, according to the critics of the digital era, a society that is increasingly dependent on Internet connections and a continuous supply of information can actually cause widespread memory impairment.

This can be blamed on multitasking, which causes our attention to be subdivided into a variety of diverse activities. Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel sustains that only when we concentrate on information one piece at a time are we "able to significantly store it into the recording area of our brain." For University of Oregon's Robert Sylwester, electronic forms of media stimulate our curiosity, and as a result, our memories. "Nevertheless we need to use them in a creative, active manner, not in a passive, inert fashion."

The central aspect of this issue seemingly relates to the creative stimulus of our memories, regardless of whether it comes from a book, a grocery shopping list or a computer screen. "When you go to the grocery store and don't want to forget the stracchino cheese, try imagining a pool full of this cheese with lady gaga swimming in it", suggests American journalist Joshua Foer, who recently published the book "Moonwalking with Einstein: the Art and Science of Remembering Everything."

The secret, according to Foer, is to remember by having fun doing so, associating information to an image that is bizarre and entertaining. While he was writing his book, Foer interacted with the world champion of memory Ed Cooke, who was the source of many of the book's arguments and implications. This was a success: the journalist won America's annual tournament of memory recollection. Foer's motto is "There is nothing sadder than a person who loses his cell phone and is so lost he can't even remember the family's phone number to call home."

Foer's practices have an ancient origin. To associate meaningful images to data is a classic technique of primordial poetry. Indeed, in antiquity, the rhyme was probably employed as a mnemonic mechanism. Australian aborigines used their songs and chants for centuries in order to record the routes of seasonal migrations: with each verse, a new step. In the Renaissance, the theaters that celebrated the memories of Pico della Mirandola and Giordano Bruno were constructions of images and thoughts. "Bruno used to call long-term memory the ‘palace of thought," and believed the secret to memorizing a given notion is to think of it through images," explains Gianni Colfera, a passionate admirer of the 16th century Italian philosopher and astronomer, who was said to have the ability to recite by memory 250 books, even back to front.

According to Foer, a further memory catalyst is gossip: he considers it "glue" for the memory. Internet and smartphones are a limitless source of gossip -- just as limitless as the capacity of the brain to absorb and record information. With or without Google.

Read the original article in Italian.

Photo - runran

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The Unsustainable Future Of Fish Farming — On Vivid Display In Turkish Waters

Currently, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming, compared to just 10% two decades ago. The short-sightedness of this shift risks eliminating fishing output from both the farms and the open seas along Turkey's 5,200 miles of coastline.

Photograph of two fishermen throwing a net into the Tigris river in Turkey.

Traditional fishermen on the Tigris river, Turkey.

Dûrzan Cîrano/Wikimeidia
İrfan Donat

ISTANBUL — Turkey's annual fish production includes 515,000 tons from cultivation and 335,000 tons came from fishing in open waters. In other words, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming.

It's a radical shift from just 20 years ago when some 600,000 tons, or 90% of the total output, came from fishing. Now, researchers are warning the current system dominated by fish farming is ultimately unsustainable in the country with 8,333 kilometers (5,177 miles) long.

Professor Mustafa Sarı from the Maritime Studies Faculty of Bandırma 17 Eylül University believes urgent action is needed: “Why were we getting 600,000 tons of fish from the seas in the 2000’s and only 300,000 now? Where did the other 300,000 tons of fish go?”

Professor Sarı is challenging the argument from certain sectors of the industry that cultivation is the more sustainable approach. “Now we are feeding the fish that we cultivate at the farms with the fish that we catch from nature," he explained. "The fish types that we cultivate at the farms are sea bass, sea bram, trout and salmon, which are fed with artificial feed produced at fish-feed factories. All of these fish-feeds must have a significant amount of fish flour and fish oil in them.”

That fish flour and fish oil inevitably must come from the sea. "We have to get them from natural sources. We need to catch 5.7 kilogram of fish from the seas in order to cultivate a sea bream of 1 kg," Sarı said. "Therefore, we are feeding the fish to the fish. We cannot cultivate fish at the farms if the fish in nature becomes extinct. The natural fish need to be protected. The consequences would be severe if the current policy is continued.”

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