Technology and MemoryMarch 12, 2012
Evolving Brains or Fat and Lazy Ones?
Our world is becoming increasingly complex and technology continues to evolve at a staggering pace. As it does so, discussions are beginning to emerge about its effects on us and our ability to recall information. Our brain is the ultimate computer. It can be programmed and repaired time and time again, but what damage is done to our “meat computers” when real hardware comes into play?
On one side, there’s the argument that the more we rely on technology, the less we use our brains. Those on this end of the debate use examples like GPS navigation. In a recent New York Times article, psychologist Julia Frankenstein cites research she conducted showing that traditional maps help us build our mental maps of physical space – and relying on GPS does not. The fear is that when we use GPS systems, we no longer build cognitive roadmaps and no longer recognize landmarks. Instead, we develop tunnel vision and blindly follow our navigation systems wherever they may lead us. This argument is essentially saying that when we have access to technology we’re not pushing our brains to work. I say this is nonsense!
Thinking About Bigger And Better Things
Our brains have evolved to act “economically.” We’re programmed to try to decrease the amount of information we store in our noggins and avoid storing unnecessary information. Because we are no longer using a paper map to get from Point A to Point B doesn’t mean that we’re not continually challenging our minds. I believe that by getting rid of the need to recall landmarks, we are in fact freeing our minds to think of much larger, more complex issues, instead of getting bogged down in the details. When maps came along and replaced the stars as our primary navigation tools, I don’t think there was any big debate about us not working as hard to get around. Our world is complex and information is hitting us harder and faster than ever before. We need to make room in our brains in order to make sense of it all. I see technology as affording us the option to grow. Technology is not a crutch, as many say. Instead, it’s a means of extending our abilities.
In today’s world, managing knowledge is no longer about memorization and regurgitation. It’s about learning to be a good researcher. It’s now about knowing where to find information, not about being able to keep it locked in our brains for long periods of time. Technology and the internet have given us a kind of shared external memory. We do not have to remember dates, sums, formulas, clauses, street names and detailed definitions. It’s enough for us to have the big picture, to see things in broad strokes. If we are good researchers, we can have any information at our fingertips within seconds. To the same point, it’s easier than ever before in the history of mankind to find people who specialize in what we don’t know, and they will willingly share their expertise with us not for profit, but because of a shared belief that information wants to be free. If I don’t know something, I can find it out for you. And if that fails, I can find someone that does know. Today, it is most important to be smart at getting smart.
Evolve Your Brand, Too
At Brandtrust®, we understand the world is evolving and that our brains and memories are evolving and adapting to our time. It’s important to change the way we think about marketing and how and why people make the decisions they do. You have to appeal to the consumer in a way that captures their fractured attention, and to do that you need to know what matters most to them. I read four Facebook posts today from friends talking about how they can’t focus on anything. Our world is on sensory overload, so the important question is, as a brand, how do you make yourself stand out? How do you earn a permanent place in the long-term memory of the consumer? I maintain that technology is not the enemy in answering that question. But, as the way people think about and manage their access to information evolves, it becomes ever more critical to evolve how your brand interacts with people as it struggles to secure a place in their distracted, technologically enhanced minds.