The Shallows: Chapter nine: search, memory

This is my summary of chapter one of The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember, by Nicholas Carr.

For my summary of chapter eight, the previous chapter, please click here.

Desiderius Erasmus was one of the earliest scholars to recommend that his students keep a notebook in which they could note down facts they found to be the most significant, so they remained fixed in the mind.

This idea evolved into a common place book, adopted by Francis Bacon, among other Enlightenment thinkers, serving as a chronicle of the intellectual development of many a gentlemen throughout the Enlightenment period.

This practice gradually fell out of favour with audio and video and the development of artificial forms of memory, committing info seemed less necessary.

With the widespread adoption of the Net, we have come to see memory as something which can be ‘outsourced’ to machines – we no longer regard memorizing facts as an efficient use of our brains – such things are better left to the Net, and our brains saved for more intricate, or more human matters.

Short term and long term memory…

Various experiments demonstrate that physical changes take place in the brain with long term memory formation, and the quality of human memory depends on interactions long after the information is first received, on how the information is processed.

The process of memory formation is complex, involving lots of interactions across different parts of the brain. Botanical metaphors are more accurate as descriptors than machine metaphors. Biological memory is alive, computer memory is not.

The machine metaphor, where memory is concerned, is wrong: the brain cannot be full, it has an unlimited capacity to store and expand. We don’t constrain our ‘other’ mental powers when we store more information, we are not freeing up space when we outsource our memories to the net.

The Internet and Memory

The calculator made it easier for the brain to transfer ideas from working memory to long term memory and encode them in conceptual schemas that are useful to working knowledge – this highly specialized tool was a boon.

The net has a different effect… it places more pressure on our working memory not only diverting resources away from our higher reasoning faculties but obstructing the consolidation of long-term memories and the development of schemas. The Web is a technology of forgetfulness…

Basically because attention is a key determinate of what we remember…. The influx of competing messages hinders…. And learning how to think really means learning to exercise control over how or what you think!On writing this book: He’s not immune!

For my summary of chapter one (which links to further chapters) please click here. To purchase the book (it’s a cracking read!) please click below!

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