Unpopular Opinion: We Should Remember Things Again

Like, with our minds
Published: 1 July 2024

How many mobile numbers can you recite without referring to an external source? If that number is more than five, congratulations—you belong to the top 25 percentile of people who do. Pretty cool if not for the fact that it’s a completely made-up stat. Though my fabrication probably doesn’t stray too far from the truth.

You don’t need an article to tell you how storing information on devices is commonplace. Even Instagram does a great job reminding you what happened this day four years ago; something you’d only be able to conjure if you consciously, manually tracked your memories, and who’s psychotic enough to do that on a regular basis?

And of course, the infamous ‘Google Effect’. The phenomenon where individuals are more likely to forget information they know can be easily accessed online. This heavy reliance may lead to passive consumption of data as opposed to active processing and engagement, dulling our critical thinking in the long run.

Experiments have shown how even taking photographs can alter your memory of an event i.e. participants with cameras retain comparatively less mental information than those without. Worse still if said photos are intended for sharing, because the added factor of their presentation and liability to judgement poses as another distraction from the encounter. It’s unfair to solely call it digital amnesia.

We’ve taken notes and marked calendars long before they were little squares on our screens. We seem prone to not depend on internal memory whenever convenient. Which, to no one’s surprise, potentially weakens recollection skills by reducing the brain’s ability to effectively encode and consolidate fresh information.

Nathaniel Barr, Gordon Pennycook, Jennifer A. Stolz, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang cover this tendency to offload thinking in favour of low-effort intuitive processing in ‘The brain in your pocket: Evidence that Smartphones are used to supplant thinking’. Building upon prior concepts of “cognitive miserliness”, a simple Cognitive Reflection Test best illustrates.

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? __cents.

Chances say your initial response would be wrong, and basic math would spell out why. Typical scores of college students and online-recruited participants registered only 33 percent correct (Campitelli & Gerrans, 2014; Frederick, 2005).

Thankfully, apart from adequate sleep and physical exercise, memory can be boosted via simple brain training. No need for memory palaces like Sherlock (though proven useful). Simple sudoku or word puzzles help. Otherwise, journaling or a daily mental recap. If that’s somehow still asking too much, start with memorising a couple of significant birthdays rather than let social media do it for you.

Not only will concentration and analysis be enhanced, problem-solving and overall mental agility will also be sharpened. And like what mahjong does for the elderly, the risk of dementia will also be reduced.

Perhaps most interesting of the benefits will be the lesser-known effect it has on creativity. A well-trained memory means the better you are at association. This is great for drawing connections between seemingly unrelation concepts and ideas, sparking eureka moments and driving innovation. So what are you waiting for? Try Remembering ThingsTM today!

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