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| September 6, 2017 | 0 Comments

I can’t remember my best friend’s phone number. To be honest, I only have two people’s phone numbers memorized. It wasn’t always that way, I used to know everyone’s number by heart, and some addresses, but that was long, long ago in those prehistoric pre-cellphone days. Now my phone knows everything that I do not. It not only knows how to reach all those contacts, both by phone and email. It also knows what’s playing at nearby movie theaters, what time it is in London, who starred opposite Paul Newman in “The Sting,” and what the weather is like right this moment in my brother’s home town of Clearwater, Florida.

This got me wondering, with all the devices we have to do the work for us, is our brainpower becoming stronger or weaker? We no longer have to look anything up or store facts in our brain. It is being done for us.

I remember in my youth, at home, we had the World Book because my parents could not afford the Encyclopedia Britannica. If World Book did not have enough info on a project I was working on, I had to actually go to the library and either work there or check out an encyclopedia and other books on the topic. It was barbaric by today’s standards. I mean I had to find a way to get there, remember my library card, and master the Dewey Decimal System to locate my subject.

Now, I am far from a believer in the way things used to get done. I am all for progress, but still I wonder, what is actually happening to my brain? If I can get any fact I want by just asking a device, am I losing an ability I worked hard to develop?

For me it started when I got my first cell phone and learned how to store contacts, make grocery lists and check my email. That still took a tad of effort. Tap this, then this, then click on that. But then another technology took over – voice activation. Now I do nothing but ask. I do not have to touch anything. I do not have to click on anything…I just speak. “OK Google, take me to Susan’s house.” “Hey Siri, what time does ‘Hamlet’ start at The Old Globe matinee today?”

It’s very cool and quite convenient. Plus, I am never wrong about anything anymore. If asked about something I am not sure of, I grab my trusty cell phone and just ask. Like I said, never wrong.
So, I wonder what is that doing to my ability to memorize? What about the brain’s capacity to store facts? Sometimes I watch “Jeopardy” just to test myself and see how many facts I have retained. As a senior, I know some brainpower diminishes, but then we are told to add new skill sets to our repertoire to keep the brain active. But now, besides cell phones, there are myriad of devices that are voice activated and are fast becoming a mainstay of many homes. They can remember to do all the things we forget, like turning lights off and locking doors. Some refrigerators even have the capacity to tell us what we are out of.

I hope that by taking away all the things we had to remember or look up, our brains are left with more room to learn about and contemplate today’s world. These are very complicated and difficult times. Things are changing rapidly, not all for the good. We will need to think and act according to what is happening in our external environment. If we are making more room in our brains to understand, to cope and to take necessary actions, I will gladly trade in my ability to memorize phone numbers for the better and more necessary skills that I need to survive.

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