Your Memory Is Not Your Own
A recent LifeHacker column by Thorin Klosowski directed me to this great quote from science writer Jonah Lehrer:
“One of the virtues of transactive memory [that is, memories shared by and exchanged among people] is that it acts like a fact-check, helping ensure we don’t all descend into selfish solipsism. By sharing and comparing our memories, we can ensure that we still have some facts in common, that we all haven’t disappeared down the private rabbit hole of our own reconsolidations. In this sense, instinctually wanting to Google information—to not entrust trivia to the fallible brain—is a perfectly healthy impulse. (I’ve used Google to correct my errant memories thousands of times.) I don’t think it’s a sign that technology is rotting our cortex—I think it shows that we’re wise enough to outsource a skill we’re not very good at. Because while the web enables all sorts of other biases—it lets us filter news, for instance, to confirm what we already believe —the use of the web as a vessel of transactive memory is mostly virtuous. We save hard drive space for what matters, while at the same time improving the accuracy of recall.” Read more here.
My own readers know that I have frequently warned that “you can’t Google context”—that you need to have a base of knowledge in your mental hard drive in order to evaluate and integrate new knowledge. (See this piece I wrote for Time magazine, for instance.) But Lehrer makes a good point about the mutuality of memory—our memories are not isolated and inviolate, but rather are always being shaped and shaded and corrected by others’ memories.