In Chapter 2 of Smarter than You Think, Clive Thompson analyzes the ongoing efforts to preserve memory and provides a prognosis for the future. Thompson sets the stage to discuss memory through the experiment, ‘Total Recall’, conducted by MIT speech therapist Deb Roy and his wife in recording the life of their infant son (Thompson 19). According to Thompson, the experiment helped Roy capture truly important moments of his child’s life, such as standing for the first time and playing with his grandfather for the last time, inadvertently (Thompson 23). Memory has been observed to be brittle; while a large proportion of memory is lost in the short term, a substantial amount is retained as long-term memory (Thompson 25). Memory is better retained if it is contextual. Memory is also malleable, with false memories implanted and retained over time (Thompson 26). The effort to record everything in life has begun by a dedicated group called ‘lifeloggers. While lifeloggers can record nearly every aspect of their lives and interaction with others, they face a problem in retrieval, as digital systems do not have the context where the memories were created (Thompson 32). A way out is a hybridized system, where humans could provide the context to memories while the brute force of computers could serve to dredge memories based on context provided (Thompson 37). Geolocation is one method of providing context to memories, for humans to retrieve information. On the obverse side of the obsession to remember everything lies the pitfall of remembering everything. The human brain would inherently want to forget, so that comprehension and intelligence could be triggered rather than a constant relapse to old memories. Therefore, a middle path at retaining memory might be the way for the future (Thompson 40).
The chapter provided a concise and holistic treatment of what memory means, and how the current generation is grappling with the idea of extending memory. The idea of a seamless memory of everything, duly aided by computers, sounds attractive as it would, paradoxically, put the human brain at ease and not get unduly harried if a memory is lost. The importance of context in retaining memory is brought home astutely, providing clues as to how we remember faces, actions and words in relation to the space and time of occurrence. The biggest takeaway is the philosophical aphorism that humans in the future would be more interested in determining means of forgetting, rather than remembering, due to the huge overload of memory made possible due to cheap and searchable media. The chapter provides a prognosis for the future, where man and machine would be more inextricably linked in a mutual understanding of what life is all about, because at the end of the day, life is only defined by our memory of it.
Thompson, Clive. Smarter than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better. New York: Penguin, 2014. 19-44. Print.