Web madness:
My younger brother describes to me an experiment that stemmed from the observation that modern young people spend more time doing a number of different things at the same time than did their parents at the same age.  One obvious explanation is that there are simply more things to do.  So the experimenters tested the young folk for their accuracy at a task as simple as arithmetic both in isolation and while they were doing other things.  The most striking result was that the experimenters were amazed at how little their subjects were troubled by how bad they were at multi-tasking. 

There is now evidence along similar lines about memory.  (Daniel M. Wegner and Adrian F. Ward How Google is Changing Your Brain SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN vol. 309 no. 6 December 2013 page 58)  It turns out that we are memorizing fewer things because we know we can always look things up on the internet.  I tried looking up, “When was the war of 1812 fought?” and found it was 1812-1815.  “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” turned up the information that the question was popularized by Groucho Marx, can be traced back to one Ed Wynn who likely did not invent it and the answer is, “Nobody,” since Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia Dent Grant are not actually below ground.  That took seconds.  With power like that, who can afford to remember anything.

But memory does have its use.  You remember or have read of the Chernobyl reactor disaster.  The reactor caught fire, because of a safety check ye gods, and released a lot of radioactivity.  There is a brief passage in Revelation that describes a star burning like a lamp falling and poisoning the earth and the water; the name of the lamp was “Wormwood.”  The Lapp people often memorize the Bible, and it was they who pointed out that Ukrainian for wormwood is “chernobyl.”  The name of the town predates that of the reactor.  I doubt anybody would have picked up the coincidence if nobody had memorized scripture.  

So they tested some people, some of whom could look things up in the internet and others of whom could not.  When asked how good their memories were, the ones who had used the crutch reported greater satisfaction with their mnemonic prowess than those who had gone it alone, even if the latter had been told they had done quite well. 

So the internet makes your memory worse but makes you think it’s better.  You have to wonder where this leads.

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