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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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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