On the Operational Memory of the Web
I was going through my old journal entries and found an entry I wrote 7 years ago (I was 20) on memory and the web, which I can still relate to. Repost:
It’s really easy to retrieve information online. There has to be something that we're losing by relying on computer so much. I noticed that when I'm studying something, I write down the key concepts down, to research later online. But often times, I only record the locations of where I find more information, rather than attempting to retain the information itself. In effect, I feel like I’m very good at retrieving information, but I'm not good at retaining the information itself.
For example, often times when my coworkers ask me a technical questions, I can't give them an answer off the top of my head, but I know the exact procedure that’s required to find whatever it is they were looking for. It’s like I've given up on information itself, and have began developing meta-information. This is great in terms increasing “quickly accessible information” greatly. I can only recall so much information off the top of my head, so I’ve been focusing on quick access instead of storage.
When the horse and the donkey are in different places, how are you going to get a mule?
However, I see a downside to this as well. When the horse and the donkey are in different places, how are you going to get a mule? Without retaining actual information (rather than “meta-information”) it’s difficult to make information-babies. Since they're not in the same soup (my brain) they're out in the internet, then get placed in my short-term memory until their function is performed, then out they go.
I think I'm getting closer to what I want to get close to. My long term memory isn't getting enough exercise due to the internet. I’m getting better and better at warping and expanding my short-term memory, but less reliant on my long-term.
Which is funny, because as internet technology advances, personal computers are ALSO becoming more reliant on short-term memory and less reliant on long-term memory (hard drives). You can stream movies, videos, games, music, documents, spreadsheets online without ever downloading them to your hard drive permanently
So following this trend, it seems to be converging on one large soup of data/information (the internet/collective human knowledge) and multiple controlled access points (PCs/Humans). However in this extreme case, we'd have one big problem. If all you're doing is accessing information then forgetting about it, then who’s doing the processing/creating new information? The internet doesn’t know how to think, so far we're the best thing at it.