Technology’s Impact on Our Memories
Human augmentation is a useful basis for understanding how technology serves humans.
By Ben Bajarin
One of the core premises of our research at Creative Strategies is to understand technology from a deeper human level. We too often get caught up in the technology itself and can lose sight of the basic human needs or desires technology is serving.
With artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and any number of other buzzy technologies, I sense the human angle is again being lost while we chase technological advancements for the sake of the technology rather than human advancement.
I think it is helpful to use the idea of human augmentation as a basis for our understanding of how technology serves humans and will always do so. The core definition of “augment” is to make something greater by adding to it. Using this framework from a historical perspective, we can observe how nearly every human technological invention was designed to augment a fundamental weakness of human beings.
Tools were invented to augment our hands so we could build faster, bigger, more complex things. Cars were invented to augment the limitations of the distance humans can travel. Planes were invented to augment our lack of ability to fly. The telephone was invented to augment the limitations of human communications. Nearly every example of technological innovation we can think of had something to do with extending or making greater some aspect of a human limitation or weakness. This was true of historical innovation, and it will be true of future innovation as well. Everything we invent in the future will find a home augmenting some shortcoming of our human bodies. Technology, at its best, will extend human capabilities and allows to do things we could not do before.
While we can analyze many different angles in which technology will augment our human abilities, there is one I think may be one of the more compelling things to augment — our memory.
My family and I took a recent vacation to Maui. On vacation, I saw how critical and transformative the smartphone camera has been when it comes to memory augmentation.
I’ve long thought that one of technology’s greatest values to humans is in the assistance of capturing memories. For sure, this is the driving motivation behind most people purchasing digital cameras and video cameras through the years. Now most people in developed markets own a memory capture device and comparable apps on their smartphones to enhance these memories. It was fascinating to see the lengths people on vacation would go through with their phones, drones (I was surprised how many I saw), GoPros, waterproof smartphone cases, and more to capture and preserve their memories.
I saw people climb trees, brave cliffs, and hike extreme conditions with their phones to get a unique selfie. Some flew a drone overhead as they jumped off waterfalls, put phones in waterproof cases to get pics of kids snorkeling, and used GoPros to capture unique photos and videos of undersea creatures and experiences. Most of the memories captured are meant to share on social media, but these pervasive capture devices also enable us to create and capture memories we would most likely forget or have a hard time recalling if left to our memory.
I’ve argued before the camera sensor is, and will remain for some time, one of the most important parts of our mobile computing capabilities. The desire to preserve or capture a unique memory will remain a deeply emotional and powerful motivator for humans. Allowing technology to take this idea a step further are tools such as Apple Photos and Google Photos, which look over our memories and make short videos not just to augment but also to automate our memory creation process. As machine learning gets even better, these technologies will make creating memories from moments even easier.
As technology continues to augment more and more of our human capabilities, my hope is that the technological tools and processes involved will fade so deeply into the background that they nearly disappear. This way, we can get the most out our time at work, school, play, and vacation and spend less time fidgeting with technology. Ultimately, we will be able to do more with technology but also spend less time with the technology itself and more time doing the things we love.
Ben Bajarin leads Creative Strategies’ behavioral analysis and research center where the impacts of many consumer behaviors, digital home / family and connected lifestyle technologies are studied. He also manages Creative Strategies’ custom research arm and is responsible for maintaining data models for smartphones, PCs, tablets, and many other topics.
Read more: “Augmented Ability: Assistive Technology Gets Smart”
Originally published at www.pcmag.com.