Redefining memory skills in the digital age

Eva Prabhakar
Filed on August 6, 2018
Redefining memory skills in the digital age

Where do memories live? Imagine that you've just opened your front door, and staring right at you, standing squarely in your way, is a hippo! You immediately slam the door shut. As your mind races - and your feet cannot move - you start to think that it's just a dream. But, just to be sure, you inch towards the front window, and gently move the curtain - just an inch. "Oh no! It's not ONE hippo, but a whole camp of them!" - you gasp and then cover your mouth with both your hands. Why have so many hippos set up so many tents on your front lawn? And, why do hippos need tents, anyway?Welcome to your memory palace. What you've just imagined is a time-tested technique to help you remember better, formally known as the method of loci.It's an ancient method that makes use of a familiar space, such as your current house, and introduces an anomaly, such as a hippo, to the scene. You're then sure to never forget the information you were working on - in this case, the image of hippos setting up camp on your front lawn will help you remember that it is the hippocampus part of your brain where memories take shape. It is quite literally a trip down memory lane.Frequent use of the memory palace technique helps in keeping your memory building skills sharp - the magic lies in the fact that the setting doesn't change. So, the more you use this technique, the easier it becomes to allocate new information that pops out to you - the memory palace becomes as easy to navigate as a familiar home in the night.And, while most things are learnt quicker at a younger age, thankfully, the ability to recall can be made sharper at any age. "Brain plasticity is the ability of the brain to rewire itself and form new connections. New studies are showing that our brains can continue to grow at any age. That means that all adults (irrespective of their age) have the ability to reprogramme their neural networks. Moreover, neurons actually live a long, long time - some studies say they can actually outlive the bodies that contain them! They do not die out with normal ageing; they do, however, go through subtle changes. So, the advantage that youngsters have is that they don't experience the functional fixedness that adults do. They are open and willing to change, experiment and discover. They are creative and can see the world from a perspective that adults may not due to their conditioning. This allows the youngster's brain to rapidly make the necessary connections to quickly learn a new skill, behaviour or language," says Cheryl Pinto, NLP coach and managing director, GrowPro Consultants."Sometime during my 30s, I decided that I was not going to let my mental acuity lower with age. For the past 50 years, I've led a very disciplined life whether it's eating healthy food at regular intervals, practising meditation every morning or maintaining a manual ledger of my company's accounts even after most things have become electronic," shares Jugraj Bothra, 80, a small business owner in Dubai.As you have increasingly come to depend on your smartphone and the cloud, things that you'd otherwise have to remember to do come to you with a ding! It's your calendar that tells you when it's a loved one's birthday, your virtual phone book that stores phone numbers (do you know the numbers of even two of your friends?) and email addresses, and an app that tracks your water intake for the day. So, what do you really have to remember on your own today?"I love old school things. So, I usually write down all my tasks in a planner or a notebook. Then, at work especially, I only use one platform, Microsoft Outlook, that saves thousands of emails, phone numbers, and email addresses. It also has a reminder for everything - which I can snooze out, if I wish. From ordering food to scheduling my day, I like how writing things down and using notifications works together with my ability to recall things," says Patrice Marquez, 24, an administrative professional in Dubai. "My favourite way to remember things is to click a picture - even if it is information I can write down. This way I can quickly access things I wish to review on my cellphone itself such as instructions, locations, and invites," says Trixy Natividad, 28, an administrative professional in Dubai."Tech tools are excellent to store information, so we can use our time and attention to focus on bigger, more important things. However, there is a rising concern among experts over 'digital dementia'. People are increasingly becoming absent-minded, forgetting why they walked into a room or what they intended to do next. Whilst I allow my tech tools to retain information such as my schedule or telephone numbers, I engage my memory and keep it active by memorising important telephone numbers, promises made to my clients and names of people I meet. I always memorise those things that are important to know should my tech devices stop functioning," shares Pinto, 36.So, when you don't even need to remember the geographical layout of your neighbourhood because GPS technology is an intrinsic part of your smartphone, and you have contingency plans in place should your gadgets ever fail you - is a sharp memory still prized when it comes to being a good student or a co-worker? Evidently so, if you look at certain educational curriculums such as the Indian CBSE board or the World Memory Championships. There's even a national memory athlete in the UAE! And, there's no better team member than one who can remember minor details to charm a client.While the way you remember has certainly changed, what does this complementary storage of your memories - between your neurons and the tech bytes - mean in the digital age?Today, we end up recalling a collectively subscribed - and endorsed - narrative as the true account of a past event. In this scenario, is a memory still something that you can call your own? How do you feel about your memories being accessed on a public platform - as opposed to just your hippocampus? So, the far more important question today isn't how we're remembering things, but what is a memory anyway?

"Sometime during my 30s, I decided that I was not going to let my mental acuity lower with age. What has worked for me is the consistent practice of Vipassana meditation, playing cards, and solving a Sudoku puzzle. I've done at least one of these every single day for the past 50 years, and don't depend on any gadget to recall things."

Jugraj Bothra, 80

"Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) offers various tools to aid in improving memory by using the brain's ability for spatial, visual, auditory and kinesthetic storage and recall. One effective method has three steps. First, decide that you want to remember it. Then, pay close attention by writing it down. Finally, create an enchanting story with characters and a sequence of events. Make the story memorable by making it funny, exciting or even ridiculous. This will then help you to quickly recall the story and thus the information that you stored within it."

Cheryl Pinto, 36, NLP coach and managing director, GrowPro Consultants

"I use apps to help me remember important information. I feel that when we have access to such cool technology, we should make use of it as much as we need."

Patrice Marquez, 24

"Always keep two copies of important information - one digital for easy access and one in a notepad or a sticky note. Then, all you have to remember is your notepad, and it'll do the rest."

Trixy Natividad, 28



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