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Memory And Technology (Part II)

In the second half of our series on memory, we explore how technology can be used to help trigger memories, as well as distort them. We consider what digital legacies we wish to leave behind and consider how we can mindfully use technology to support our memory.

Technology And Memory

Technology is never too far from our fingertips. Most people carry their smartphone everywhere they go and it has become a necessary staple of modern daily life. Whether you are using it to browse the internet, check social media, read an eBook, make a quick note, or record videos and photographs, technology has become an integral part of daily life.

There are, of course, a range of highly useful benefits to having so much technology at our disposal. For one thing, it allows us to store information somewhere relatively ‘safe’. No longer do we need to worry about memorising long phone numbers or recalling the exact directions to a specific location, because we can simply rely on our phones to store all those important numbers and to guide us safely to our destinations. Technology provides us with the opportunity to store information elsewhere, thereby freeing up space in our brains to focus on other things.

Aside from phone numbers, we also increasingly use technology to store our notes and experiences. We keep electronic ‘to-do’ lists safe from getting lost by storing them on our devices. Many people also use apps for note-taking and journaling.

Yet, it is perhaps the recording capabilities of technology which are the ones we rely on the most to help us capture our experiences. Sound recording, videos and photographs all allow us to capture a moment as it happens. More importantly, not only are they physical evidence that ‘we were there’ and that we experienced a particular moment or event, but they are more permanent than our memory alone. In digitally capturing those moments, we are storing them for future memory. We can return to them later on in our lives and use them to help us recall the experience, the event and (we hope) how we felt at the time.

Using Photographs and Videos to Trigger Memories

Our memories are constantly altered. Each time we remember something, such as a childhood experience, we remember the memory of the event. As such, each subsequent recollection is slightly altered. We also find ourselves sometimes altering details of our memories based on new information. For instance, additional details others recall of the event, or things we are told happened, even if we did not witness them for ourselves.

Photographs and videos can be particularly helpful in enabling us to recall our memories more vividly and in greater detail. They can help to trigger our memory of the event and how we felt as we experienced it. They can also help us to unearth other memories that we weren’t even consciously trying to recall.

Most importantly perhaps, they can be comforting in helping us to capture moments that would otherwise be ephemeral, and allow us to share these with others. For example, a photograph may capture a moment of natural beauty from atop a mountain, or your child’s first day at school. A video can be shared with family members, allowing them to ‘experience’ a baby’s first steps, even if they weren’t there. It can be used to capture key life events, allowing you to relieve them again whenever you want. Videos can even allow a new generation to ‘meet’ family members who are no longer alive, capturing their voice, physicality and personality in digital form.

Technology And Memory Distortion

Yet, technology can also distort our memory of events. Studies have found that people who are focused on photographing/videoing experiences can often have a very narrowed or focused visual recollection of the event, at the cost of other senses. For instance, individuals may have very detailed visual recollections of specific details, such as the colour of a sunrise and the way the light reflected on the water, but may not be able to recall the smells, sounds or even the feel of the sun or the wind on their skin. As such, their memory of the event, whilst highly detailed in some aspects, can be lacking in many others. The memory is therefore limited and diluted.

Similarly, researchers have also found that people who take photographs/videos with the intention of sharing them on social media tend to recall the experience from a third person perspective. Their perspective of the event changes based on what they intend to do with the photograph, as well as the comments and feedback that they receive from others upon seeing it.

This is somewhat similar to what happens concerning childhood memories. There may be memories that you recall which are clearly from a first-person perspective. However, you may have seen photographs or videos of yourself as a child and when you recall those specific memories, you may recall them from a third-person perspective. St this point, it becomes a question of authenticity. Are you recalling the memory itself or the ‘inserted’ or ‘imposed’ memory caused by the photograph/video?

This is perhaps a more pressing question for current younger generations, who are growing up surrounded by images and videos of themselves. When they watch videos of themselves as toddlers, are their memories actually their own, or are they altered and imposed memories, resulting from repeatedly watching content of their younger selves?

Our Digital Legacy

With such accessibility, it’s no surprise that we are generating huge quantities of digital content. Through technology, we have the opportunity to record multiple aspects of our lives, which can be used by future generations to better understand the way we lived in the 21st century.

However, this also raises the further question of what we want our digital legacy to be. As we outsource our external memories onto hard disks and the cloud, what do we want to become of our digital memories when we are gone? It’s not only photographs, videos and social media accounts that we need to consider, but also our emails, music libraries, eBook libraries, digital documents and websites, amongst many others.

These digital, external memories will remain, long after we are gone. What do we want them to capture? What key memories do we want to leave behind and pass on to future generations?

An Invitation…

Technology has the potential to help us recall and relieve important life experiences. Over reliance on technology, however, can prove unhealthy and detrimental to our wellbeing and our memory.

As we enter the final month of the year, a time in which we often try to capture celebrations and family gatherings, as well as reflect on the past year, we invite you to consider ways in which you can mindfully and healthily use technology to support the creation of your memories.

Rather than simply taking photographs and videos of everything that happens, try to make a conscious and mindful decision to capture particular moments. As you reach for the camera, ask yourself, why do you want to capture this moment? What is it about that particular experience that you want to keep forever?

Taking photographs and videos does not prevent your from being present to the moment and experience, but it can filter the experience. So, we invite you to also try to engage your other senses and not rely on technology alone. This need only take a moment, a breath. Allow yourself to engage with the present moment as you take the video/photograph, or in the seconds just after. Try to be aware of your other senses and how you feel during the moment.

In this way, when you come to look at your external memories from this time, you won’t just be able to recall the visual details, but will also be able to trigger wider associations with the experience. As such, you create the opportunity to develop deeper, more meaningful and rounded memories.

As always, we would love to hear from you! Please feel free to share this post with others and connect with us via our Facebook page on in the comments below!

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