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The Risks of Digital Dementia and Digital Strokes

I briefly wrote about digital dementia in my post about demand driven education. The term deals with the fact that people tend to outsource information to digital devices we had still stored in our mind just a couple of years ago. A huge driver of this digital dementia are of course mobile phones.

I suppose that many of you will still remember times without mobile phones. Back then we either had a little address book with all the important telephone numbers or a big chunk of those phone numbers we simply memorized. When we then needed to call someone from a telephone booth we remembered the number and dialed. And it worked just fine! However, it sometimes feels slightly awkward to me thinking back of those old days.

That all changed dramatically with mobile phones and their address books. Sure, we still had to type them in by hand at the beginning of the mobile era at least which gave us a short window of opportunity to learn them but nowadays we either “bump” our phones or send a digital business card via Bluetooth. Think about it, whose telephone numbers do you still know by heart? For me it comes down to two or three in the family, the rest is on my digital brain. And do you remember what you used to do without bookmarks in the browser?

With the possibility to connect to information we need in real time, the necessity of remembering facts and information diminishes as it takes about the same time to open a browser tab and search for the information on Google or Wikipedia as trying to remember.

But what happens if the access to our digital brains is interrupted or even worth corrupted? Last week the service was the target of a hacker attack. The service ironically has the tag line “the last password you ever need”. Besides the great risk of identity theft and everything related to it, people won’t be able to access the services they signed up for anymore and the classic story of people using the same, easy to remember password on every service they sign up for is nothing else than trying to avoid the process of remembering or taking the risk to forget.

We don’t trust ourselves and therefore we are willing to trust technology, may it be pen and paper, a Rolodex or mobile devices connected to the cloud that do the job of remembering for us.

There are a lot of advantages that come with it. We get access to far more information than we would have been able to learn and memorize with books ten years ago. Our digital memory is being updated constantly and we get more effective in finding relevant information which is similar to rewiring our brains.

The risk of a digital stroke through hacker attacks like on the Sony network or outages like the Amazon S3 is growing though. That’s why I still use a “real calendar” as backup for my digital memory.

More on how technology can help us to learn and to memorize next Tuesday. I’m going to blog about how social learning can keep us motivated and mobile technologies help us to memorize information more easily.

Picture: Graham Johnson, Graham Johnson Medical Media


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