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.
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