Addicted to novelty since 2001

Technology Must Be Changing Our Memories

A brief and amateur history of memory assistance.

  • 1800 – If you’re lucky, you can read and write. If you’re lucky, you’ve got access to paper and writing instruments, and the time to use them. In short, a minority of people can keep a diary. A smaller minority can draw or paint.
  • 1900 – It ain’t cheap, but you can get a photograph made of yourself, or some of your life. You’re probably literate, and you have a little more spare time to write things down.
  • 1985 – Everyone can afford a camera, so most important events are documented with a few photos. Video cameras are also exploding in popularity, replacing the 8mm film cameras popular with enthusiasts. Computers are coming to the home user, and with them a huge capacity for storing text.
  • 2005 – Digital cameras, both video and still, are ubiquitous. The restriction of film has been removed, and the number of images made is increasingly rapidly. Storing and organizing images is easier than ever–no shoeboxes required. We have an infinite capacity for storing text. Blogs have exploded in popularity, making more and more people diarists.
  • 2020 – It’s become a simple matter to capture your every experience from birth to death in high-quality video, with tiny cameras embedded throughout your clothes and body (there’s plenty of extra room in your ears, for example). Though we can’t project it straight into your brain yet, all of the data is time and place-logged, and instantly accessable through a variety of mobile devices.

How will my one-month old nephew remember the world, when he’s got all this technology to do it for him?

6 Responses to “Technology Must Be Changing Our Memories”

  1. Norlinda

    Your final idea reminds of the futuristic movie “The Final Cut” where a chip gets implanted in your brain and records all memories. And when you die, the chip is taken out and your family can then enjoy a movie of your happier life moments (after much editing of course.)

  2. Andrea

    Don’t forget the advent of moving pictures, recorded music, Brownie cameras, and home movies. In fact, with the invention of writing and, later, books, some people were worried that people would lose their memories.

    Neil Postman wrote some great books about the surrender of memories and culture to technology.

  3. double-plus-ungood

    Probably worth also noting that in times past (say 500 years ago and earlier), people were able to memorize large amounts of information. For example, it wasn’t uncommon during the Middle Ages for people to memorize the entire Bible. The growth of literacy during the Renaissance and Reformation changed much of that.

  4. donna

    I was chatting with someone the other day about how my sister views camera technology (she’s just shy of 4.)

    If her picture is taken, her reaction is to race over and see the picture on the screen on the back. Both her parents and I have all had digital cameras since before she was born, and only half a dozen times has she ever had her picture taken with a traditional camera.

    I’m ever so amused by this. She’ll never know the frustration of taking 9 rolls of film and having everything turn out blurry, and therefore having shitty, shitty picture documentation about your trip to Europe when you’re 14…

    I’m not bitter. :)

  5. Darren

    Donna: I recently watched some little kids playing at taking photos. They didn’t actually have a camera, so they were miming it. One took a photo (a fauxto?) and then turned her imaginary camera around to show her friend.

  6. Rob Barac

    Great idea for a post Darren.

    I read some time ago that we were losing a whole generation of memories due to digitech. Photos stored on optical drives and no albums to pass on. It seemed that the very way that we define our memories (and therefore ourselves) was changing.

    My wife and I started a blog for our baby boy just after he was born. It often makes me wonder how he will view his parents 20 years into the future when he can read how we felt and what we though during his entire life.

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