Offloading Memory

Louis Black does a funny bit about the elderly and “senior moments.” The elderly don’t talk, he says, they engage in verbal charades. Something like:

“Hey, you remember that guy, you know, in that movie?”

“What guy?”

“You know he was in a movie with that other guy.”

“What other guy?”

“The one who was in that movie with that woman.”

“What damn woman?”

“The one with lots of hair.”

“Lots of hair?”

“Yeah, she was like famous for all that hair.”

And so on, as the elderly attempt in vain to remember who the hell that guy was with the other guy who was in another movie with the woman who had lots of hair.

But, nowadays, what with the internet and with just a little bit more than “that guy” to type in, one can google it and eventually, and usually pretty quickly, come up with the name of “that guy.” I went through something like that–I can’t remember though what exactly–recently and I was able to google up the name of “that guy.” I remarked to somebody, “It’s like we our outsourcing our memory to the web.” He said, “Maybe that’s better.”

I don’t know, but apparently the elderly are not the only ones outsourcing their memories. According to the L.A. Times, Chinese young people in their twenties, previously drilled for hours and hours in the memorization of the approximately 3,000 characters necessary to communicate intelligently in Chinese are forgetting how to do it. Not because of the web, precisely but because of the new communication technologies.

According to the Times:

The more gadgets people own — cellphones, smart phones, computers — the less often they go through the elaborate sequence of strokes that make up Chinese characters. Whether on their computers or texting on phones, most Chinese use a system where they type out the sound of the word in Pinyin,the most commonly used Romanization system — and presto, they are given a choice of characters to use.

As a result of their reliance on these gadgets, younger Chinese people no longer write out long hand as it were their characters and as a consequence forget them. No problem, though, says one young Chinese person, who believes she has forgotten about 20% of the characters she once knew, “If I don’t know a character, I take out my cellphone to check.”

OK. I don’t know what this means. But it means something.

chinese tree.gifThe character for “tree.”

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