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:

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, but 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.

Posted by tangentialist at July 19, 2005 08:12 PM | more tangentialism

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