Hey, absent-minded professional: Your
favorite gadget could sap your ability to
Only a few years ago, Michael Schell had a memory that put people
to shame. The CEO for RW3 LLC, a New York-based expatriate cultural
online training organization, had almost every important phone
number, calling-card code, and PIN - hundreds of them - committed
to memory. He also knew his entire schedule for the week without
glancing at a calendar. "I could recall all the information
instantly," he says.
Then he bought a personal digital assistant (PDA) and began storing
all the data in it. "Now I can't recall my wife's cellphone number,
and I find myself increasingly relying on the device to serve as my
memory," he admits. "If you lose or damage the device, you can find
yourself in big trouble."
These days, Schell isn't the only one worried about losing his
mind. Amid a deluge of personal information - phone numbers, e-mail
addresses, birthdays, passwords, PINs, credit-card numbers and
expiration dates, government and employee ID numbers, and more -
people increasingly rely on computers, PDAs, and cellphones to
store data and auto-dial calls. The same people often find this
same data disappearing from their brains.
That's leading some scientists to question whether gadgets
undermine our memories and change the way we think. "Our brains
have only a certain amount of memory capacity, and we have to pick
and choose what we commit to memory," says Dr. Gary Small,
director of the UCLA Center on Aging and author of The Memory
Prescription: Dr. Gary Small's 14-Day Plan to Keep Your Brain and
Body Young. "There's
no question that these devices make our lives easier and allow us
to retrieve information more quickly. The question is, Does it
worsen brainpower or lead to negative results?"