I used to remember phone numbers. I also remembered birthdays, street addresses, spelling, and peoples' names (although I was NEVER very good at that). Now I no longer need to remember. My phone holds ALL the phone numbers to which I have ever been exposed. It remembers for me. Street addresses are not nearly as relevant as email addresses - and email addresses are on their way to being completely supplanted by IM, Facebook, or chat identities.
Predictive spelling is pernicious and ubiquitous. I have to dig up the most arcane of vocabularies to be able to stump it. It completes my thoughts - not just my words - on the phone. Google is constantly asking me, "Did you mean..." and letting me know that Google understands my needs and desires better than I do.
And my thoughts! It occurs to me that my thoughts used to occur in full sentences and paragraphs, complete with punctuation, and that they used to formulate developed ideas or arguments. Today, my thoughts have been boiled down, condensed, and shriveled into bite-sized Status Updates. If I string enough of them together and throw in a few linking words (notwithstanding, however, although, and this-having-been-said), I may arrive at a paragraph of seemingly coherent non-random sentences.
This is not the ranting of a Grumpy Old Man against technology. No, rather it is an observation that I used to remember things that have by now been wiped clean from my cerebral cortex. Is it a BAD thing that I do not have to remember phone numbers? Not necessarily. In fact, although I used to remember a lot of numbers, there is no way that I could ever have hoped to know the thousands of names and numbers which populate my Outlook contacts.
This is Progress (capital P employed against the wishes of Windows spellchecking). We could say that Progress has allowed my memory to be expanded through technology. But we could just as easily say that Progress has actually replaced that same memory and left nothing in particular in its place. Progress and Technology (capital T, ditto) have not told me how I should use the extra space in my memory - it just provides the room.
More and more I notice that, in trying to remember a particular word, phrase, or name, I will willfully forego the use of the Internet, determined as I am to remember it all by myself, unaided by the omniscient collective mega-brains at Wikipedia, Google, and Dictionary dot com. The results are inconsistent, but when I do manage to extract the lost information from my head, it feels like a triumph of humanity over its creations.
I also notice that, since my memory seems to have a lot of leisure time at its disposal, that I remember myriad stupid things. I remember lyrics of songs that are now getting to be three decades old. I remember my phone number from 1972. I remember some of the birthdays which I used to know in the pre-technological era. I remember jingles from 1950s radio advertising which I heard as a child on compilations which I used to take from the library. I know what "LSMFT" means, for example.
Do we even use libraries anymore?
Do I think that humans are getting dumber? Do I think that the race is deprogramming its brains in order to evolve into giant biological-organic processors? There is quite a bit of evidence to support the affirmative, but this is not the point. As with every innovative break-through, it usually takes several generations for humans to catch up with their own ingenious tools. My children will know less than I did, but they will be infinitely smarter. And their children even more so.
My generation - the generation which spanned the chasm into the Information Age - works with a different operating system. We want to keep everything on our internal hard discs while new generations are happy to deposit everything in the cloud. We continue to believe that what we learn and retain by dint of prodigious effort is MUCH more valuable than information which can be plucked like low-hanging fruit from a search engine. And if you ask me, we are right in so thinking.
But I should really check that on Google...