Article 6Are Smartphones Replacing HumanMemory?The importance of remembering the world we are part of.by Nancy ColierPsychology Today, April 15, 2013This weekend I invited a relative to our home for lunch. Ten minutes afterthe time she was to arrive, I was greeted by the familiar chimes that signaltext messages and voice mails awaiting. My guest sounded desperate,reporting that she had replaced her old smartphone with a new model andhad not yet transferred the information. Despite having been here manytimes, she had no idea where we lived. She had exited the train at thewrong stop, remembering a pre-smartphone address, and was nowwandering the streets waiting for my text. She was in fact quite close to ourapartment, but recognized none of the landmarks that might point her in theright direction.I too recently drove to a place that I have visited many times before. As Ihad no internal memory of the route, I diligently obeyed what my iPhonecommanded, and did not notice when my master navigator sent me in thewrong direction. I ended up lost, both internally and externally.Years ago, Thoreau wrote about the potential effects of our reliance onclocks as a replacement for noticing where the sun is on the horizon.Today, most young people have no idea that the time of day is related towhere the sun is sitting in the sky. As far as where north, south, east andwest are, forget about it. We cannot figure out the time of day by the sun --that may not be a disaster, but we have lost the awareness that a linkbetween the two even exists. Time is simply a number that appears on oursmartphones home screen, and has been removed entirely from itsrelationship with nature and the universe as a whole.When you glance around the streets of New York, most people are staringinto a small screen. Few are gazing up at other people, the sky, thebuildings, flowers or anything else. We are not noticing where we are, notaware of where we exist in relationship with the world. We are becoming aspecies that lives inside our isolated pods, disconnected from each other
and the physical world, in relationship only with our devices and thereflection of ourselves that they provide.Why is it important for us to be able to figure out where we are goingwithout our phones? We have phones, right? It is not about being able toget where we are going on the days when we forget our devices, but ratherthe meaning of noticing and being awake to our environment and where weare in the present moment.For one thing, to notice our environment keeps us safe. Paying attention toour world protects us from potential dangers. Crossing the street whiletexting might keep you from noticing that a cab is speeding towards you. Inaddition, when we notice what is around us, we are participating in our life,in the now as it happens. When we notice our world, new experiences canoccur. We can meet new people, see something that we have never seen,become curious and learn from what is around us.Furthermore, being aware of our surroundings and where we are inrelationship with the world reminds us of our inherent interdependence, andwhere we fit into this group dance that is life. We notice the other peoplewith whom we share this planet, with whom we might share a smile, aconversation or a shared frustration. We notice the less fortunate lying indoorways, and remember what we have that they do not. We see buildingsthat other peoples fathers and mothers built with their hands. We take inthe sky and remember that we are just little dots spinning on one planet inone solar system in one universe among so many others. We observe thetrees upon which allow us to breathe. We are aware of stores where foodthat people from America and other countries have harvested. We seeourselves in relation to all these other life and non-life forms.If we lose this sense of our interdependence, we will forget altogether thatwe need each other and our planet to survive. Soon we will believe that weneed only our smartphone to survive.We must remember to look up from our screens, not only to avoid gettinghit by oncoming traffic but because of the possibilities that looking upoffers, and to remind ourselves that we are a part of a much larger matrix oflife upon which we all depend.