The human mind and its ability to catalog information, ranging from grocery lists to the four laws of thermodynamics, were given a big boost with the advent of writing. Long form poetry, à la Homer’s classical Greek epics (not Homer Simpson) no longer had to be passed down through the generations by word of mouth. Someone could now actually write all of this good (and not so good) stuff down.
Yet even with wonderful writing, which gave us Anna Karenina and 50 Shades of Grey (pieces of literature on equal footing, right?), we still had to memorize things in school, like our times tables, the periodic table of elements and the state capitals. Basic mental maps about how to get from school to home or the shopping center were also important, in order to keep us safe, or to keep us from wandering into a bad neighborhood and being abducted.
Gone are the days of mental maps and brain calculations. Thankfully, I can still add up tax and divide and multiple things in my head, but according to a few studies, the millennial generation can’t. In fact, Millennials have terrible memories, which are outstandingly appalling when compared to their predecessors. And I’m not worried about pointing this fact out and ruffling any feathers out there. Even if a Millennial reads this information in print, chances are it won’t be retained for very long.
There’s a heck of a lot of information to keep track of in the modern world. With so much to remember, many of us are simply choosing not remember things, and rather rely on easy access to our “collective brain” when we want to remember something, which basically means Google and the Internet.
According to a poll conducted by The Trending Machine, Millennials (18-34) have worse memories than the average senior (age 55 and up). And we’re not talking about complex algorithms or biochemistry here. Grandma and Grandpa are better at remembering where they put their keys, whether or not they’ve taken a shower today, what day it is — and in an ironic twist of fate — where their phone is.
The bad news is that this “memory loss” can hurt a person’s overall intelligence. Memory and IQ do correlate. The good news is that in a few decades, it won’t matter very much. In a strange turn of events, we may have to get a little dumber (as a species or society) before we get a whole lot smarter.
Studies, like the one done by Scientific American, show how the “Internet has become the external hard drive for our memories. ” Rather than remember the line of a song you love or the name of place you visited in the past, you can look it up online instead. This quick, digital referencing ability has caused our memorization capabilities to atrophy. We no longer depend on others (friends and family) to help us remember events. Out smartphones and tablets, not to mention Google and Wikipedia, do that for us now.
Again, the bad news is that our dependence on machine knowledge and storage might have a limiting effect on human cognition — for the time being, that is. According to the futurist Ray Kurzweil, the “Singularity” is coming around 2045. It’s a time when people and machines will become one. Basically, you won’t have to use a device to search Google or Netflix for information or entertainment anymore. You will be Google, Netflix or whatever information service is coming down the line in the future — right inside of your digitally or mechanical altered skull.
For some, this is a scary proposition. For others, it means you’ll be able to watch 50 Shades of Grey inside your brain without the need for an external screen, store complicated mathematical formulas in your noggin or learn Kung Fu (Matrix style) in a mere moment — plus you’ll always be able to keep track of your keys.
The only problem is, the Singularity isn’t here yet, so until then, for people who can’t function without their GPS-enabled devices or digital daily planners, let’s hope they’ll always know (more or less) where their brain … I mean their phone is.