Years ago in the dim dark distant past of psychology – the 1970s – we thought that human memory was a chemically mediated function within the brain. Now, there is a growing belief that memory is based on DNA and much of it could therefore be distributed throughout our body. For instance, do you actually need your brain to be involved in remembering how to walk? Or can your muscles of your legs be left to do that for you? Research suggests there is much more brain activity when we are learning a skill than when we are using that skill. So where is the memory for that skill if there is less brain activity? It must be somewhere else in our body.

So what has all this to do with the Internet? Well, the Internet – particularly blogs, picture library sites, social networking site and so on – are extensions of our brain. No longer do you have to remember what you wore at last year’s Christmas party, all you need to do is look at the pictures on your online library. No longer do you have to remember who your friends are – you can check the list and contact them directly from your social networking pages. No longer do you have to remember what you said at a business meeting, you can store it on your private blog. In other words, many people are dumping what would normally be stored in their brains onto an electronic store somewhere in the world. That means our memories are now being distributed globally. Part of my memory, for instance, is on my computer in my office; part is on my blog hosting server in Germany and some of it is on computers in Canada and America.

Gordon Bell is going even further. He is a Microsoft researcher who has recorded every single moment of his life for the past seven years on computers. Want to know what you said if you had met Gordon five years ago? He can tell you. Want to know what happened during a phone call in 2001? Gordon’s system can tell you. Of course,he can’t remember everything, but his extended and distributed memory can.

Just think about your own life: do you have a blog, do you store backups online, do you have a laptop with meeting notes on it? In the past you would have tried to remember all this information but now, by distributing our memory into an electronic global system, we have near perfect recall. No longer do you have to rely on your brain, you can use the Internet as part of your memory.

Psychologists are only just getting to grips with the concept of distributed memory within our bodies; now we have to think about the concept of our memory existing outside our bodies. Fascinating stuff and you can read more about it at Fast Company magazine.


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