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Gadgets Have Taken Over For Our Brains 311

Posted by Zonk
from the let's-get-started-with-the-implants dept.
skotte writes "According to a Trinity College survey released Friday, the boom in mobiles and portable devices that store reams of personal information has created a generation incapable of memorizing simple things. In effect, the study argues, these devices have replaced our long-term memory capabilities. 'As many as a third of those surveyed under the age of 30 were unable to recall their home telephone number without resorting to their mobile phones or to notes. When it came to remembering important dates such as the birthdays of close family relatives, 87 per cent of those over the age of 50 could remember the details, compared with 40 per cent of those under the age of 30.'"
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Gadgets Have Taken Over For Our Brains

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  • by tinrobot (314936) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:41AM (#19857629)
    ...but I forgot what it said.

    Here, let me pull it up on my iPhone.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Aliriza (1094599)
      Maybe this research is showing that aging strenghtens the memory , the olders remember things better why should it be related to gadgets.
      • by trolltalk.com (1108067) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @10:06AM (#19859193) Homepage Journal

        "As many as a third of those surveyed under the age of 30 were unable to recall their home telephone number without resorting to their mobile phones or to notes."

        Maybe its because older people are still tied to land lines. They forgot the "I don't have a land line, jst a mobile, you ignorant clod!"

        Anyway, to my point: Its like remembering your own postal code - why should I? I never write letters to myself, and I never mail anything any more. About the only thing I get in the mail are bills (hey - I pay them onine, but until they give me $ for saving them postage, paper and printing, let them keep sending them), junk mail, and some print IT trade magazines. If I need it, I can always look on my driver's license.

        Better, at least for me, to remember the "break points" in the ASCII table - 65=A, 97=a, etc ...

        We remember what's important to US, and forget the rest. Remembering a bunch of phone numbers is no longer important - we have gadgets to do that, same as some people in previous generations had servants to "sweat the small stuff."

        Just remember to keep a hard copy of all those phone numbers, for when you lose your cell phone ...

      • I still think you're probably joking, but after reading so many of the other posts on this topic, it's no longer so obvious. The thing is that us "older folk" remembered phone numbers and birth dates when we were young folk, as well.

        This is not without precedence. When books and writing became common place, a similar phenomenon happened. People used to routinely memorize very long stories in their entirety. If you do that today, it makes you a bit of a "freak show".

        As others have mentioned, it does free

  • by timmarhy (659436) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:41AM (#19857633)
    study shows people who have had longer to remeber things, remeber more things!

    • by panaceaa (205396) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:38AM (#19857889) Homepage Journal
      I wholeheartedly agree. People over 50 have had 50 years of repetition to remember birthdays. In addition, they're more likely to have bought homes, and therefore to have had their home phone number remain the same for a longer period of time. The study also doesn't take into account how young people tend to use home phones less than older people, and tend to provide their cell phone number instead of their home phone number more often than older people. Perhaps I have my own assumptions in the previous sentence, but the study didn't quantify them in either direction.

      A more useful study would be to give people in each group a list of numbers to remember. Have them study it for a couple days. Then take it away for a week, and have them come in to recite it. Which group does better? My personal guess would be that the results would match the historical learning capabilities of a person's age (which I personally don't know). I doubt there would be a significant difference between results in a study 20 years ago versus a study today. But it would be nice to have a control group of people who don't use gadgets to compare to.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jmichaelg (148257)
        Your argument that we've had years to learn what we know is simply wrong. I'm over 50 but I knew my home street address and phone # when I was a kid. I knew all of my sibling's and parent's birth dates. It was just expected that a child would know those things and we didn't have little crutches to look at if we forgot. We had to admit we'd forgotten something and ask again. Do that a few times and you start to feel pretty stupid so you try a little harder to remember next time. That is, you did that if you
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @06:57AM (#19858239) Journal

      Not even that, it just shows that people in different age groups remember different things. Einstein famously said that he never bothers to remember things that are easy to look up. There is no point cluttering your brain with useless information. Do you know your PC's IP address? Maybe if you don't use DHCP and you've had to re-install the OS a lot. What about the IP of google.com? Of course not (for most people), that's what we have DNS for. Do you remember your phone number? I don't often give people my phone number these days; I just bluetooth my vCard over to them. They never see my phone number, they just see my name in the address book. A phone number is something that the calling telephone needs to know, not the calling person.

      Birthdays? I remember some. I generally remember which part of the year they fall in, but since they're in my calendar, I don't need to remember them.

      There's also the question of where you remember things. I don't remember the spellings of many words with my brain, for example, I remember them with my spine. My brain sends a signal to my spine encoding a word, and my spine translates this into a sequence of motor impulses that cause me to type the words in this post. If you asked me to spell some words aloud though, I would have problems, even though I can type them easily. The same is true of dance moves; when you're learning you remember things like 'step cross reverse step etc' but after a while you forget this and just remember the muscle movements, leaving your brain free. Before I had a phone with an integrated address book, I used to remember telephone numbers like this; I could type my friends' numbers into the keypad easily, but I couldn't tell you what most of them were if you asked.

      • by qengho (54305)

        when you're learning you remember things like 'step cross reverse step etc' but after a while you forget this and just remember the muscle movements, leaving your brain free

        Yeah, it's an interesting phenomenon. I learned to play Bach's Bourée on the guitar when I was a teenager, and I can still play it 35 years later as long as I don't think about it. If I just let my hands do it, the music comes right out.

  • by MarkEst1973 (769601) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:42AM (#19857639)
    A smart alec news reporter once asked Albert Einstein how many feet were in a mile. Einstein said he had no idea. The news reporter then berated him, because he didn't know. Einstein said that's what he had books for, to look up things like that. He didn't want to clutter his mind with facts.

    I've got no problem letting a device remind me when my mom's birthday is. That's what it's for.

    • by Bamafan77 (565893) * on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:01AM (#19857735)

      "A smart alec news reporter once asked Albert Einstein how many feet were in a mile. Einstein said he had no idea. The news reporter then berated him, because he didn't know. Einstein said that's what he had books for, to look up things like that. He didn't want to clutter his mind with facts."
      Exactly. Richard Feynmen enrolled in some biology classes(he wasn't strictly a biology guy, but needed to understand some concepts) and asked some biology students about a "map of a cat" [multitran.ru].

      " When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles.

      The other students in the class interrupt me: "We know all that!"

      "Oh," I say, "you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you've had four years of biology." They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes. "

      It's interesting to note that absolutely nothing has changed in the mechanics of the biology curriculum since Feynman's time.
      • by spineboy (22918) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:26AM (#19857835) Journal
        Even though some things can be easily looked up in a book, having committed the facts to memory gives certain advantages that are not obtained by just having them in a book. Do you want your airplane pilot looking up what the trim settings, or throttle settings are on the plane when he is landing? Do you want your surgeon having to look up where the sciatic or femoral nerve is in the middle of your hip replacement?

        The answer is no. The retained knowledge of facts allows for a more thorough understanding of the facts, and allows for easier manipulation. I see this all the time with idiot cashiers who can't make change, and have to look up what the correct change is for something that costs $19.27 after I give them $20.02.

        Ir retort to Feynman - I could easily look up F=MA in a basic physics book, as opposed to cluttering my mind with that useless formula.

        My arguments will obviously trigger a response in fans of the rote memorization vs those of the concepts(why learn adding - we have calculators). Probably swining too far in either direction is unwise, and a healthy balance between the two is beneficial in learning.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Do you want your airplane pilot looking up what the trim settings, or throttle settings are on the plane when he is landing?

          It might scare you, but the first thing a pilot of a large airliner does when there is an emergency conditition is to pull out her flight manual to follow the detailed instructions on how to proceed with this particular emergency. There are too many different scenarios to know the rules for them all.

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by Joebert (946227)

          Do you want your airplane pilot looking up what the trim settings, or throttle settings are on the plane when he is landing?

          No, I want the plane to be built well enough that they'd never have to know any of that.
          I don't fly, but if I had no other choice I would rather trust in an airplane programmed with decades of information over a single persons memory any day.
        • by professionalfurryele (877225) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @06:31AM (#19858089)
          No physicist learns F=ma by wrote. They learn it by applying it. Your other situations all have time criticality. I don't want a surgeon looking stuff up mid op because it takes longer. I don't want a pilot looking up how to extend the landing gear mid landing because he should be paying attention to the ILS.

          I can think of two situations when one might memorise material by rote. The first is when it is time critical. The second is when for the forseable tasks one intends to undertake it is faster to memorise the material than repeatedly look it up. In the case of Feynman and the biologists, Feynman is correct because he was able to do actual interesting biology without needing to memorise the material, catching up four years of real biology in no time. It is the equivilant of a physics degree comprising in no small part of memorising the lagrangians of condensed matter systems. Physics, certainly. Useful, sure. The most productive use of a students time, hell no!

          The reason your retort to Feynman is specious is that Feynman would have no problem with you looking up Newtons laws, or the formula for the Ricci Tensor, or any other formula (heck I study quantum gravity and I don't know what the formula for the Ricci tensor is) like that the first 20 or so times. After you use a formula that often you will memorise it anyway. You might get a complaint if you don't know what the Ricci tensor is, or what a force is, because knowing what concepts are and how to use them is more important than knowing their precise form. It is the difference between knowing what the kidneys do, and knowing what each individual part of a kidney cell looks like under a microscope.

          In reference to the article, I cant remember my own phone number, heck I forget how to spell my own middle name. These facts are not useful or relevant, so I don't bother to learn then. Not to mention they are stored somewhere else. The learn by rote generation is just pissed because mass storage has rendered most of the stuff they spent ages memorising obsolete.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by try_anything (880404)

            In the case of Feynman and the biologists, Feynman is correct because he was able to do actual interesting biology without needing to memorise the material, catching up four years of real biology in no time.

            First, he would only be correct if the biologists had memorized the muscles of the cat before needing to know them. Spending an hour memorizing the muscles of a cat would pay off rather quickly if those names were needed for communication, for example when listening to a lecture about feline locomotion,

        • by Loligo (12021)

          Do I want a surgeon to have to look up where the sciatic nerve is mid-operation? Of course not.

          Do I care if the same surgeon can remember his mother's phone number in mid-operation? Of course not.

          Apples to oranges.

          Do you have to look in an ORA book to remember when to go to /etc? Do you have to check your calendar to remember the exact date of Labor Day? I couldn't tell you exactly which date Thanksgiving falls on this year aside from "third Thursday of November", but I know where the hell passwd is.
        • I'm pretty sure my gandma had a little book where she wrote down phone numbers, birthdays, etc.

        • by dajak (662256)
          I could easily look up F=MA in a basic physics book

          Bad example. If you understand physics this relationship between the concepts of force, mass, and acceleration is obvious. In fact you cannot truly understand the classical concept of force separate from this relationship.

          Same with for instance historical facts. Surely the general story and its historical significance is more important than mere dates, places, and persons, but remembering the year some battle happened, who fought whom, who won, or where it
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by vertinox (846076)
          Do you want your airplane pilot looking up what the trim settings, or throttle settings are on the plane when he is landing? Do you want your surgeon having to look up where the sciatic or femoral nerve is in the middle of your hip replacement?

          Of course not, but I'd rather have the surgeon set reminders about his Mom's birthday rather than have a sudden realization he needs to send her flowers during my operation.

          Secondly, (and on a more serious note) most of what you are discussion isn't fact memorization
      • "Oh," I say, "you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you've had four years of biology." They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes. "

        Of course, Feynman could also have caught up so fast because he was an abnormally smart guy with decades of experience in assimilating and making sense of lots of new scientific/technical information. I generally agree with his point, and I'm against memorizing things instead of learning conc

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Honestly, I don't see how it's a big deal that I have a hard time remembering my own phone number.

          Practically speaking, it's irrelevant whether you do remember your phone number. I think the point of the study is that it would be alarming if all our devices made it such that people surrounded by such things (who do nothing to compensate) could not remember such things.

          In other words, it's not about whether you actually remember a particular piece of information, but whether your overall ability to rememb

      • by tsa (15680)
        Feynman was the most overhyped scientist of the twentieth century. I mean, what has he done that will be remembered in 100 years time? Yet people go on and on about how great he was.
        • Feynman was the most overhyped scientist of the twentieth century. I mean, what has he done that will be remembered in 100 years time?

          When people are solving problems in particle physics in the year 2107, I reckon there are pretty good odds they'll begin by drawing diagrams of the interaction...

      • Of course nothing has changed in the mechanics of the biology curriculum.
      • by nwbvt (768631)

        "It's interesting to note that absolutely nothing has changed in the mechanics of the biology curriculum since Feynman's time."

        Well, that depends on what type of biology you are studying. Many of those studying biology have to memorize anatomy because they are studying to be doctors, not scientists. A doctor can't stop in the middle of surgery and say "I forgot which bone this is, wait a second while I look it up". They do have to memorize such stuff.

        On the other hand, someone studying microbiology

  • Passwords (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tttonyyy (726776) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:43AM (#19857641) Homepage Journal
    Maybe we're forgetting al this stuff because
    a) we know we don't need to remember it
    b) we've displaced the storage space with the massive variety of passwords we need to remember these days
  • So? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nebaz (453974) * on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:43AM (#19857643)
    People can't multiply four digit numbers together in their heads anymore either. They don't have to. Einstein didn't know his phone number either, he said he could look it up. Who cares if you can't remember your Aunt Trudie's birthday? We have technology for these things.

    It's important to remember that the brain can only retain so much. When overloaded, a new fact replaces an old one. Do you all forget the episode of Married With Children, when Kelly went on a sports trivia show? The only thing she knew before she prepared for it was that her dad scored four touchdowns in a single game. She crammed all sorts of knowledge into her head, and was totally kicking butt in the competition, until the final question. "What local hero scored four touchdowns in a single game?" She had forgotten.

    It is important to realize that we have a limited number of brain cells. With technology, we can use fewer of them, and this is how it should be.
    • Re:So? (Score:5, Funny)

      by ameoba (173803) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:08AM (#19857765)
      ...and you're using yours to remember episodes of Married With Children?
    • by kahei (466208)

      You realize that Married With Children is *fiction*, right? It's only on the TV. It's a script that someone wrote. You can't use it as evidence to build a theory about how human memory works. It only shows that there is a *belief* among some people that new memories overwrite old.

      On the other hand there *is* a lot of evidence that memory can be trained to increase capacity (and that factors such as diet and sleep patterns also play a key role in how good the memory is at various tasks).

      So it's not a zer
      • I think another point needs to be raised. Let's say you don't need to remember Aunt Trudie's birthday because we have tech. What are you going to replace Aunt Trudie's birthday with? It seems an episode of Married with Children and how it relates to true life. I don't think that we can call that progress, actually I would call that regression.

        If Einstein did not remember his telephone number fair so be it. Yet Einstein also probably was not thinking about Married with Children. He was thinking about other t
    • by Joebert (946227)

      Do you all forget the episode of Married With Children, when Kelly went on a sports trivia show? The only thing she knew before she prepared for it was that her dad scored four touchdowns in a single game. She crammed all sorts of knowledge into her head, and was totally kicking butt in the competition, until the final question. "What local hero scored four touchdowns in a single game?" She had forgotten.

      I don't remember that episode, but I remember Kelly was a blonde.

  • Fortunately for us, the brain is fairly adaptable, so losing the capacity to remember phone numbers might mean gaining in other capacities--capacities that can't be replicated by technology yet.
    • by thealsir (927362)
      I think that a brain with less clutter and baggage is one that can handle more things, and handle them efficiently and with less error.

      There are some things that should be rotely memorized, mainly small pieces of information that need to be referred to quickly and often. But remembering a ton of small things can use up brain power that could be applied to better things.

  • by nanosquid (1074949) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:43AM (#19857649)
    These gadgets are doing exactly what they are supposed to: they are freeing us from the tedium of having to memorize and keep track of meaningless numbers, dates, and times. I don't see why that's a bad thing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sique (173459)
      I wholeheartedly agree.

      In the 19th or 18th century everyone with a good education was able to talk fluently in six or seven languages. It is no longer necessary. Most educated people today know their own language and english (even the U.S. americans as the British would point out ;) ) Now we can lament about the worsening of our language skills, but on the other hand people in the 19th and 18th century never met so many people from so different countries as we do in our life. Obviously language skills in ma
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gr1dl0ck (165776)
      "freeing us from the tedium" implies that we are now at liberty to use our minds for big and better (or at least different) things - but what are these things, for the average person?. As the article mentions, "the less you use of your memory, the poorer it becomes".

      I can accept that relying on your gadgets for this data may not be a bad thing, if someone can enumerate the advances each person can make by not having to remember it.

      Until then, I'm of the camp that it's not the import of the data that matters
  • Duh (Score:3, Informative)

    by Scarblac (122480) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:45AM (#19857659) Homepage

    They have no problem remembering them - after all that's what they use the devices for. Functionally it's the same thing as carrying them in your head, but now you can use the neurons for other things.

    This is only going to get more extreme over time, bring on the implants already.

    • They have no problem remembering them - after all that's what they use the devices for. Functionally it's the same thing as carrying them in your head, but now you can use the neurons for other things.

      Yeah, like storing all the minutiae of your life to regurgitate it to the knucklehead on the other end of the cellphone while you're driving?

      We only use, what, 10% of our brains anyway --- why the need to free up some neurons? Nah. It's just mental laziness that leads to atrophy of the brain.
      • by Scarblac (122480)

        We only use, what, 10% of our brains anyway ---

        Myth [snopes.com]. Please don't act as if that sort of nonsense is true...

        • To be fair, it seems like it might be true for the grandparent poster...
        • by jamesh (87723)
          It's not purely a myth... ever heard of a hemispherectomy? It's exactly what it sounds like, the removal of one of the sides of your brain, and is done where one hemisphere is broken and is pulling the other down with it (constant seizures etc). If done at a young enough age, the person can lead a (mostly) normal life. I believe there are cases of hydrocephalus (wrong spelling i think, but i'm not looking it up :) where a persons brain size has been greatly reduced because of fluid accumulation in the skull
  • by S. Traaken (28509) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:47AM (#19857667)
    I don't consider birthdays to be as important as my parents (and my parent's parents) do - so I don't bother trying to remember them.

    If I know something is recorded somewhere else, I am less likely to remember it - why try to remember something that is easy to find?

    No, I haven't rtfa, but what controls are in place to separate the conclusion of 'kids these days don't remember stuff good' and 'kids these days have different priorities'?
  • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:49AM (#19857673) Homepage Journal
    Sure...they can't remember their friends' phone numbers, but they memorize celebrities' hairstyles, dress, relationships, offspring, drama, and favorite brands of tampons?
  • That's nothing new. I totally stopped using calculators years ago when I caught a friend of mine adding 2+3 up on the command line of an Apple II, mid conversation. No, I kid you not, two plus three, and he'd only realised it when I pointed it out.

    I think he's done me a favour , it made me aware very early on that the brain is like a muscle and needs exercising.

    There is a sort of fast food trend in the media which mirrors this problem. Let's just believe the headline without spending any critical thought
    • by 12357bd (686909)
      Even worse, there's some 'I don't mind' attitude in most posts, it looks like we have already give up the fight for our mental habilities.
      • Depends on why you don't mind. I don't mind not remembering telephone numbers and birthdays, because I remember other things that I consider more important. I still do two-digit calculations in my head, but anything longer I'm likely to use dc or the Google calculator for. I can probably do some of these in my head, but I'm more likely to make a mistake, so I just do an approximation in my head and use that to validate the answer the machine gives me.
  • by lena_10326 (1100441) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @04:59AM (#19857725) Homepage
    Not enough sleep. The lack of sleep causes memory problems and insomnia is a growing sleep problem. I believe the average number of hours of sleep per night has been decreasing the last 50 years. Can't prove it. Although, look at the popularity of the latest sleep drugs.

  • It's not that "kids" today have trouble memorizing anything, it's that the amount of data that all of has to sort through has become obscene. Some of my friends have hundreds of phone numbers in their contact book. How many people, aside from high profile Hollywood agents/actors/directors had hundreds of phone numbers for all of their friends/contacts? I think this new "memory loss" can be attributed to information overload more than people getting stupider.
    • by gordo3000 (785698)
      my mom has hundreds of phone numbers, and until the last 5 years, she has kept them all written down in an address book. Yeah, it was pretty common back in the past, but also people today with hundreds of phone numbers hardly call any of them(many they never contact again) so it's not comparable to actually having hundreds of friends you stay in regular contact with. So I doubt it's any more common even though people carry those numbers around.

  • I don't understand the concept of needing to remember somthing that gadgets have been designed to remember for me.

    We don't expect farmers to plant crops with their bare hands.
  • by lordperditor (648289) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:09AM (#19857771)
    "87 per cent of those over the age of 50 could remember the details, compared with 40 per cent of those under the age of 30"

    Wow you mean the extra 20 years of repeating the same birthday dates helped them remember them, duh no surprises there really.
  • by feranick (858651) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:14AM (#19857787)
    Isn't this the issue really? A monolithic brain would be much faster in recollecting and using data. A microkernel brain (relying on gadgets for services) would have to deal with different gadgets to collect the same data and it would be use to access such devices. Not counting that different gadgets would not necessarily share data with each other (your laptop with your mp3 player, or with your PDA), immediately. So according to Linus, the old school of relying on a monolithic brain would probably be faster and probably more efficient, although a bit dirtier (misplaced wedding anniversaries, a known bug in the male population). After all it worked for centuries...
    • I disagree. A microkernel brain is better suited to concurrency. Your old monolithic brain has problems with doing more than one thing at a time. See Dan Quayle for more examples.
  • Silly article (Score:4, Insightful)

    by joss (1346) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:22AM (#19857821) Homepage
    "Men came off worse than women. Only 55 per cent of men could remember their wedding anniversary, compared to 90 per cent of women."

    There are a whole bunch of things in that article that are not necessarily
    anything to do with the hypothesis. The above is just a particularly egregious
    example. Apart from men not caring as much about relationships, how much thought
    does an average man put into thinking about the wedding beforehand compared
    to his spouse, 10% would be my estimate, but that's a little on the high side.

    In the rest of it, so older people remember birthdays better than younger people,
    maybe that's because they have been giving presents for longer etc
    • by Joebert (946227) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @06:18AM (#19858039) Homepage

      "Men came off worse than women. Only 55 per cent of men could remember their wedding anniversary, compared to 90 per cent of women."

      It's alot easier to remember a date when you're the one getting gifts every year.
    • My mother got married on her birthday, so I feel she has an unfair advantage over my stepfather when it comes to remembering her wedding anniversary. Of course, if he forgets then he's really in trouble, so maybe the extra incentive helps...

      Fortunately, I can remember both, since my mother's birthday and the end of the tax year happen on the same day, and the government sends me helpful reminders for about a month leading up to it...

  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:44AM (#19857913) Homepage Journal

    The ariticle is total bullsh... wait, what were we talking about again?

  • by Caine (784) * on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:47AM (#19857925)
    No, I might not remember people's birthdays, simply because there's no need for it, my mobile phone tracks it. However I have no problems remembering 50+ passwords, 10+ PINs and usernames and security phrases. I want a study on how many above 50 do that?
    • by vorpal22 (114901)
      I'd like to see a study on how many people below 50 do that, as I highly suspect you're very much the exception here. Most people I know have one PIN, a couple account names, and maybe three different passwords at most.
    • by Abcd1234 (188840)
      I highly suspect you're the exception, here. Most people, if they have that many passwords to manage, do one of two things:

      1) write them down
      2) stick them in a password manager, protected by a single master password

      I happen to be in the latter camp, but I know many people who are in the former.
  • by fermion (181285) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @05:54AM (#19857943) Homepage Journal
    It amazes me how technology magically appeared just recently. For instance, I hear that schools should use more technology, as if pencils and paper and mass produced books are not amazing learning tool in their own rights. I hear how no one can remember a telephone number, even though for years we have had these things called address books in which we wrote these things down in specifically because we could not, in general, remember all the information for all the people we knew. In fact the only reason we knew certain phones numbers was because the horrible user interface on the communication technology forced us to waste time memorizing numbers for all of our friends though the repeated dialing of said numbers. The reason many people no longer remember these anachronistic digits is because they are no longer slaves to the machines that force them to repeatedly dial numbers. Now we have a more friendly interfaces. Complaining that we don't know a telephone number is like complaining that we don't know how to use a quill pen, or we no longer know how to set a speed on a record player, or remember to yell gardy loo before emptying our chamber pots into the gutters on the streets below.

    The reality is that the human story is all about using tools and technology to free our minds for more abstract purposes. If we can have the facts written in front of us, we are more likely to be able to draw defensible and novel inferences based on those facts. But the lack of importance of memorization comes directly from the work technology, which is really a systematic telling of how to do something, rather than merely memorizing a myriad of facts.

    The truly disturbing thing about this story is that much research into cognitive development indicates that memorization is the lowest level of thinking, yet in average daily life memorization is overly prized and most people likely never advance beyond it. Stories like this, likely written to convince the masses that undated skills is unreasonable as the arbitrary skills of the past are always the best, merely perpetuates the myth that thinking is nor required and technology is something that happens once, and then nothing is ever discovered again. I am always very tickled when people say how fast technology is moving. Do we not consider the steam engine of 200 years ago? Or the printing press of 500 years ago? Or how about the stirrup 2000 years ago? All of these were disruptive influences which reduced the necessity of human effort for survival. Each of these offloaded some of our human effort onto machines, both physical and mental. For instance, the Jacquard loom automated not only the act of weaving, but the need to remember to switch our fibers. I am sure that all the skilled weavers who were put out of jobs decried that such a machine would be the end of civilization as we know it. And it thankfully was. I am very happy to have indoor plumbing and not have to pour my feces into the street.

    • by jez9999 (618189)
      Complaining that we don't know a telephone number is like complaining that we don't know how to use a quill pen, or we no longer know how to set a speed on a record player, or remember to yell gardy loo before emptying our chamber pots into the gutters on the streets below.

      So YOU were the one that tipped that on my head without warning the other day? You bastard!
  • Eventually, we will reach the point where we can simply implant a device into our heads and access the information that way. The only thing we have to fear is the "Blue Screen of Death", to be taken literally when that happens.
  • According to a Alexandria School of Business survey released 4000 years ago, the boom in papyrus that store reams of business listings has created a generation incapable of memorizing simple things. In effect, the study argues, these devices have replaced our long-term memory capabilities. 'As many as a third of those surveyed under the age of 30 were unable to recall the amount of items in their store without resorting to their papyrus scrolls. When it came to remembering important dates such as the birthd
  • by grimdawg (954902) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @06:42AM (#19858145)
    ...by those on both sides of the debate.

    Those who would decry technology focus too much on (relatively) meaningless data: "these people who have no desire to remember X do not remember X, whereas in the past, we needed to remember X and we did!" and its ilk.

    Those who would defend technology spend their time pointing out the obvious flaws in that argument.

    Both sides ignore the important question: will this affect us in other ways?

    There are many things I do not NEED to do, but I do them because they benefit me in other ways. I do not NEED to be able to run a mile, or perform pushups, or solve Rubik's Cube or a Crossword. However, I do them because in doing so, I prepare myself for things to come.

    Likewise, many everyday activities benefit us in similar ways: kids don't walk to school anymore, but the argument "they don't have to, since we have cars" doesn't hold up - walking has benefits beyond getting us somewhere.

    The question is, then, whether our memories ARE getting worse. Certainly we depend less on them for certain types of data. Whether we are replacing this practise with other forms of mental exercise is a more complicated issue: is our use of the cellphone and computer to recall this stuff good practice for using tech down the line? I'll bet those people who can't remember their phone number would score better than the oldies in a 'technology competency' test, on average.

    In other words, the issue is, as usual, far more complicated than TFA would have you believe. The data they've used to draw their conclusion is LAUGHABLE, yes, but that doesn't mean their claim is false.
  • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Saturday July 14, 2007 @06:46AM (#19858159)
    sort of, in his short story The Feeling of Power [themathlab.com].
  • Biased statistics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GalfWender (889552)
    "As many as a third of those surveyed under the age of 30 were unable to recall their home telephone number without resorting to their mobile phones or to notes."

    The home telephone number is nowhere near as important any more, simply because everybody has their own cellphone. I know I hardly ever use my landline, so of course it's going to be harder to remember the number.

    "When it came to remembering important dates such as the birthdays of close family relatives, 87 per cent of those over the age o
  • I don't think they've established a causal relationship here necessarily. I had horrible memory long before I ever owned a cell phone or PDA. I blame TV.
  • GPS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Boone (1127977) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @07:47AM (#19858477)
    A friend of mine once used his GPS handheld to fix the coordinates of the place he parked his car in an unknown city. At the end of the day he said "right, lets go back to the car" and pulled the GPS.. ahem.. actually he never put it down, and I doubt he actually saw much sights. Then his girlfriend said "I know where the car is! It's 5 blocks away from here". But he wouldn't trust her and we split - she said she would go straight to the car while we were waiting for a GPS fix. 20 mins latter we traced our way back to the car. His girfriend was already there - waiting for us :).
    • by david614 (10051)
      Your friend is lucky. A girlfriend with a good sense of direction is priceless. No. I am not joking.
  • Men came off worse than women. Only 55 per cent of men could remember their wedding anniversary, compared to 90 per cent of women.

    I almost snorted tea out of my nose when I read this. Go watch a few hours of reruns of sitcoms from the '60's if you think this is a new phenomenon.

    The article confuses "cannot remember" with "cannot memorize." It may be short-sighted to count on your Google calendar to remember your mom's birthday (or it may not--who knows? Perhaps soon it will interface directly with your

  • I have forgotten my own phone number many times. I don't call it enough to remember, and i don't even have a Cell Phone
  • Should we really trust important details on human memory? I mean, even if it was trained and all the average human memory is not worth confidence, if it is weakened the harm is not as much as not being able to store giga bytes of info , cause afaik human memory was always fuzzy and had limited storage space....


  • This is an especially relevant topic to me because my fiance and I just had this conversation a few days ago. We marveled over the massive amount of seemingly useless data we are storing and decided to write down as much of it that had to do with numbers as we could. We wrote down all the accounts for which we could recall passwords, pin #s, the television channels we could recall, the radio stations we could recall, the addresses of our family members and extended family members, etc... the list was stagg
  • "The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external characters and not remember of themselves." -Socrates

    Gee, I managed to remember that despite my laptop and Treo.
  • by cybereal (621599) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @03:44PM (#19861177) Homepage
    They are citing "after" effects without any "before" status. I only started using gadgets to assist in memorization tasks in the last 2-3 years. Prior to this time if I was asked my home phone I would know it, and now, I still know it. I know my work phone number too, which oddly enough, I have never known at any previous job or prior to my usage of PIM.

    If they asked me birthdays of anyone, I would have trouble remembering. I remember about 5 birthdays, and even those I have trouble recalling at will. I don't know why, except that maybe I don't care. I think birthdays are silly things to celebrate except perhaps those of your own children.

    The fact of the matter is that the majority of things I can recall by pulling out my smartphone are things I simply would not have known at all before. And there are no cases where something I would've known before is something I do not know now. I have never dialed my wife's cell phone number without the address book but I can recite it no problems, because I've watched the # pop up on the phone screen 10000 times.

    And what the article is ignoring, at least in my case, is that some information I actually remember better because of the time I took to acquire it and record it in my database. I felt it would be useful and since I didn't have to try and memorize it, I'd actually save it instead of the usual ignorance of the information. And the result is that I've memorized some of that info on accident. Darn.

    Finally, I wonder why, if these effects were real, they would be considered ill? Humans are creatures who define themselves over time through technology. We cannot continue denying that the tech we invent and use to live is not part of our species domain of evolution. As technology becomes more prevalent it becomes part of ourselves. If we have opened our mind for more important tasks by reducing what it must contain by moving that information into portable devices, or highly accessible central databases, then we have evolved as a species. Currently there are "holes" in this plan but as we move forward they will be plugged. Someday when you find yourself stranded in a forest for some reason, you'll be able to subvocalize a request for a map to be projected into your visual cortex and send a request for assistance to the nearest forestry service through satellite links. When this happens, who will care if you could or could not memorize uncle Jim's anniversary?

    What will it matter when in your satiating state of serenity you are reminded subconsciously that you decided that you cared about someone's going away party to which you were invited 9 months earlier.

    I guess what I'm saying is, let the gadgets take over our menial mental tasks. Let us follow up on the technology to fix its critical flaws so that we can rely on it. Let our minds work on the immediate projects that are of the most importance and leave this obnoxious set of tasks to the domesticated wafers of silicon that we have created.

    The fear that this technology will weaken our minds is as irrelevant as the fear that wearing shoes will weaken our feet.
  • Umberto Eco says no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by swordgeek (112599) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @02:32AM (#19865037) Journal
    The well-known author Umberto Eco [wikipedia.org] discussed this subject four years ago, in a lecture on the supposedly imminent death of books. It's very interesting to hear commentary from someone well outside of the computing field. The entire text is here [ahram.org.eg], but here's an excerpt:

    • Let us start with an Egyptian story, even though one told by a Greek. According to Plato in Phaedrus when Hermes, or Theut, the alleged inventor of writing, presented his invention to the Pharaoh Thamus, the Pharaoh praised such an unheard of technique supposed to allow human beings to remember what they would otherwise forget. But Thamus was not completely happy. "My skillful Theut," he said, "memory is a great gift that ought to be kept alive by continuous training. With your invention people will no longer be obliged to train their memory. They will remember things not because of an internal effort, but by mere virtue of an external device."


    Yep. Even Plato was discussing such issues, with regards to the invention of writing. We'll lose some skills which are less important, and replace them with others. That's how it goes.

In 1869 the waffle iron was invented for people who had wrinkled waffles.

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