Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A technology of forgetfulness?

On a school day, I usually start the morning by scanning through my Twitter stream as I eat my breakfast.  I click on interesting links, which open in new tabs.  During the course of the day I will read through these articles or blog posts, and the ones I want to save I will add to my Delicious/Diigo account.  At the end of the day I might not remember every single article I’ve read, but I know that the ones I want to read again can be pulled up easily. However I'm wondering - does this habit of clicking on the Bookmark on Delicious or the Diigolet bookmarklet actually tell my brain that I don't need to remember it?

For example recently I came across a new Web 2.0 tool for making a timeline – I didn’t need it right away but thought it might be useful for our Grade 5s later in the year as they move into their Where We Are in Place and Time unit of inquiry.  When that time comes I’ll be able to find it again by searching my bookmarks for timelines and will be able to suggest it to the Grade 5 teachers, along with other online timelines that they might like to have their students use.  But right now, for the life of me, I can’t remember what timeline tool it was.  I know it wasn’t Dipity or Capzles or TimeToast, as I’ve used those before.  This is a new one and I found it less than a month ago – but having added it to Delicious/Diigo I’ve already forgotten it.

Perhaps I’m just getting old, or perhaps I’m now using the internet as a replacement for my personal memory.  Right now I’m asking myself, is memorization obsolete?  Is my memory just like an index – pointing me to my Delicious/Diigo account whenever I want to find something?  Am I just storing information digitally, and not storing it in my brain?  And if so, should I even be worried about this, since recall is just a lower order thinking skill and I don't need to overload my brain with remembering all these little things?

Before the holidays our Grade 4 students were doing a maths unit on data handling.  I showed the students how to use the spreadsheet in Google Docs and how they could use Google Forms to make a survey to collect information that could then be turned into a graph with a simple click.  It always amazes me how easy it is to create fairly complex graphs these days.  When I was at school, it used to take me ages to make a pie graph.  I had to add up all the numbers, divide into 360, multiply each separate number by this answer, use a compass and a protractor to draw the circle and divide it up, colour it in and so on.  I don’t remember there being much time for actually analyzing or interpreting the graph.  Today, when creating a pie chart takes a matter of seconds, it’s possible to spend much more time on these higher-order skills, as a result I feel that our Grade 4s have a better understanding of data than I had at that age.  Using the computer to make a graph is definitely a way of creating more time to engage in higher-order thinking.

Is the same true of storing information online instead of storing it in my head?  Does this give my brain more time for thinking creatively rather than just recalling information?  Many would argue that this is not the case – that we are now having information pop in and out of our short-term memories without it ever becoming part of our long-term memories.  The case with the timelines is typical:  I can remember the timelines that I’ve actually used with students over the past couple of years – but the more recent one that I found and stored ready to be used or suggested later I can’t recall at all – it’s left little or no trace in my mind despite the fact that I did set up a trial account and tested it out to see how easy it would be for students to use before then adding it into my Delicious/Diigo account.  It’s a bit scary really how adept my brain has become at forgetting, now inept it has become at remembering.  However since I can retrieve this timeline tool just with a few clicks anytime I want it, am I crazy to be worrying about this forgetfulness - what do you think?

Photo Credit:  Des ├ętoiles dan les yeux by Biscarotte AttributionShare Alike 


  1. I believe what you are asking about Maggie is Tiki Toki, and the only reason I can remember that is because I go to my brilliant 'virtual' memory bank (Evernote) which YOU kindly introduced me. 

    But now I come to a far more important point which is about "keeping the mind fit". The reality is that this ove-rreliance on 'virtual' memory is in my opinion definitely NOT a good thing. I observe is that technology begs me to RELY on it to help me remember things. The more I rely, the more I forget and that cannot be good.

    I see your point about productivity improvement, and we could discuss this for hours, but net net, we all have to remember that the mind is a muscle and the part which requires memory relies on 'physical' exercise. 

    Moral: Like red wine and sex; use Evernote, but keep it in moderation. :-)

  2. Yes! It's Tiki Toki - it's interesting that you also had to rely on Evernote to find it. Actually I'm thinking I might start to have Evernote replace Delicious for me next year.

    One good thing I read recently is that "technology-induced ADD" is probably just a short-term problem as it's based on our cognitive habits that evolved in an era of "limited information flow". This probably won't be a problem for the next generations!