Thursday, February 19, 2009

Memories... (All alone in the moonlight...)

I love email, in what is likely an unhealthy way. First, webmail is convenient: since it's in the cloud it's anywhere I am.  Second, it's a semi-permanent archive of my conversations.  As a person with a less than ideal memory,* and a preference for working from an actual document rather than verbal communication (side effect of less than ideal memory), I really enjoy having that archive.

I let my Hotmail account go for too long without logging in, and it deleted my emails.  It was my primary email address from about middle school to the freshman year of college, when gmail came onto the scene.  It's odd thinking about not having those emails to reference, even if I actually needed to do so very infrequently.  For me at least, email gave those memories a greater sense of permanence, a tangibility.  This is an absurd feeling, because emails aren't any more tangible than biological memories.

If those memories not reinforced by a digital keepsake are less "real" to me, does that suggest that I devalue the physical world in some aspects?  Or am I losing memories that are impossible to capture digitally (touch, smell, impressions)?  To be honest, I have no idea of the answer to the first question, but I do think that the answer to the second is no.  But it is hard to judge what I can or can't remember!

I would love to see a study done on the use of digital media to augment memory, and its impact.  I think the real question for me is how is it different from keeping a notebook, or using post-its.  Does using digital media make us smarter, dumber, more forgetful? (It is of course a non-trivial task to define those, let alone measure them)

*According to my work and school performance, and asking around, I have a memory that is comparable to or better than that of my peers.  Apparently I lack confidence in my memory, rather than lacking memory.  This perhaps an even more telling example of the impact of using email to remember things:  Memories which aren't as clear as the digital versions are discounted, lowering the expectations I have of my memory.  Since I certainly lack photographic recall, very few of my memories are as objective or explicit as an email or photograph, making my expectations of recall sub par.

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