Computers are eating my brain and replacing it with Flickr
Today, Kottke wrote a piece on memory and the rise of alternate digital memories to replace our gray-matter search engines. This, of course, reminded me of my unfinished post about photography as a surrogate memory, prompted by something Keith had written back in February.
It’s hard to remember if I was ever great at remembering things, but I definitely don’t trust my memory today as much as I once did. Always the hypochondriac, I’m inclined to find some physiological cause for not being able to remember a name (“It must be the beef! Mad cow!”), rather than my frustrating tendency to not actually listen when someone first tells me their name. But what, for example, did I do two Saturdays ago? I know that I went to Staten Island this weekend, and that I went to Chelsea, but I don’t think I’d trust my recall of the weekend if you asked me. This, honestly, is because I have the irrefutable evidence of digital photography to back me up. Thus, I can tell you with confidence that (at the very least), on the 9th of July, I:
- walked through Williamsburg, where I saw a flea market on Broadway
- headed out to the J train, past these kids at an ice cream cart
- stopped at il Laboratorio del Gelato in the Lower East Side
- ended up on West Broadway, where I took this picture of a crappy shopping bag
- walked up to West 8th Street to get my watch battery changed
- stopped at Whole Foods for a second and waited outside as Nick grabbed something to eat.
- attended Rebecca’s sunglasses party
Flickr, in part, has shifted the balance of my memory towards the long-term, with sometimes brutal effects on my remaining short-term memory. And my long term memory is increasingly digital, relying on considerably less durable containers—my laptop (backed up, thank you), and paid web services like Backpack and Flickr—than my brain. Though I can now tell you where I was exactly five months ago (hello, Midtown!), that memory is subject to the whims of my hard drive and Yahoo’s business practices. Should I fail to pay my hosting fee, I may someday fail to remember that I snuck into the pool last night.
My short term memory is shot, except for those items that are worth storing digitally. Can I tell you what I have to work on this week? Maybe, if I check my to-do list and iCal. Phone numbers? Forget it; I have my girlfriend’s, my parents’, and work’s by heart, and that’s it–my cellphone has the rest. And names? Get a memorable domain name (and an RSS feed), and we’re good to go.
In short, my memory is being slowly subverted by devices and web services. This realization comes just as I finish the comforting Everything Bad Is Good For You, in which we learn that games, television, and the Internet are making us all more agile thinkers. Frankly, I think the connected life is reprogramming my brain to better serve my devices, games, and the Internet, and my memories of life as I once knew it are just the first victims.