The Technologically Enhanced Memory: How will life change if we can’t forget anything?

Evan Selinger in Slate:

ScreenHunter_26 Feb. 15 11.30Ubiquitous information and communication technology is a major player in the memory enhancement game. I’m not alluding to products that target impairments, like the iPhone app for combating dementia. Rather, I mean commonplace software that people use to make recall less taxing, more extensive, or easier to visualize.

For instance, Wikipedia’s anti-SOPA protest made 162 million users, accustomed to turning to the site for those idle questions that crop up every day, feel absent-minded. Nobody messed with my hippocampus or your prefrontal cortex. Rather, Wikipedia’s actions were jarring because Internet use affects transactive memory, which is “the capacity to remember who knows what.” If we know information is available online, we’re inclined to remember where it can be found, rather than struggle to retain the facts. This evolutionary tendency to off-load taxing aspects of cognition into the environment—natural or built—extends beyond using devices to recall information we’re already familiar with.

This is called “extended cognition,” and it plays a crucial role in a controversial view called the “extended mind” thesis. Advocates argue that data-management technologies, from low-tech pads to high-tech computers, don’t always function as mere memory-prompting tools. Sometimes, they deserve to be understood as parts of our mind.

More here.