Thursday, 9 February 2012


What's the point of memory? Is it really all that important?

Of the many things that new technologies do for us is that they remember things for us. No longer do we need to memorise a friend's phone number (or even your own!), with a couple of button presses it comes up on the screen of our mobile phone. No longer do we need to remember directions when we are driving, TomTom the sat-nav will tell us step by step where to go. Our technologies do our remembering for us!

Immediately we can see the many benefits of this. In many ways these memory-boosting technologies can make life much easier. We can be more organised, accurate and speedy. However, for all the benefits that this brings to us, there are many serious implications that relying on technology to remember things do for us. One of the things that these new technologies do is to seek to make our memories redundant. The more we 'outsource' our memories to technology, the less use we make of our faculties of memory and the more flabby it becomes. This has serious implications for our lives. Implications which we may not be aware of.

Tim Challies has written a helpful and thought-provoking post on the implications of 'outsourcing' our memories. He argues that empty minds lead to empty hearts which lead to empty lives. Towards the end of his post he says:
“Those who celebrate the ‘outsourcing’ of memory to the web have been misled by a metaphor. They overlook the fundamentally organic nature of biological memory. What gives real memory its richness and its character, not to mention its mystery and fragility, is its contingency. It exists in time, changing as the body changes.” Where a computer takes in information and immediately stores it as data, the human brain continues to process that information and turn it into a form of knowledge. Biological memory is a living memory; computer memory is not.
What is committed to memory, what is installed there through the labor of memorization, is of special significance. We commit Scripture to memory, not as a functional habit, but because the discipline of memorizing it forces us to meditate on it and allows us to call it to mind at any time. Putting it into our brains aids us as we seek to put it into our hearts, understand it in a more holistic sense than mere data, and then live it out through our lives. We commit favorite poems to memory because we can then recall them at opportune times as we revel in their beauty. We stare at our loved ones, memorizing their features, noticing the little details, building a picture of them in our minds and in our memories.

But as we outsource our brains to digital media, we threaten our ability to make information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. We train ourselves, not to remember, but to forget. Empty minds will beget empty hearts and empty lives.
You can read the whole of his article by clicking here.