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Memory and the Internet

48 min read

Human memory (and for that matter the memory of all organisms) is dynamic. It is active, ever changing and creative. As humans we are particularly inclined to not just construct and reconstruct our memories, but also assemble the reconstructed memories into a coherent narrative (even if one doesn’t exist in the real world). We are story tellers and remarkably adroit liar. Only we, as super smart homo sapiens can weave a tale that is taller than any “tale” (actually camouflage) offered by a chameleon that is changing colors or a small insect pretending to be a twig.

There is much more to say here, for we humans, like the chameleon and twig-resembling insect are strongly influenced by our environment. Furthermore, like the chameleon we can engage in short-term adjustments to our environment, and like the insect can adjust in a more permanent way to the world in which we live.

Neurobiologically, this means that we can modify our brains, short term to environmental changes. Primarily this involves shifting patterns of neuronal firings and secretions of mood altering and behavior activating hormones. The longer-term modifications in brain functioning involve something that is quite controversial at the present time—this is our remarkable capacity to reallocate specific neural functions to different parts of our brain—a capacity called “neuro-plasticity.”

Given that we are influenced by our environment and that this influence can lead to short-term and long-term alterations in brain and hormonal functioning, we should pay attention to what the environment is in which we now live and how changes in our environment are impacting on the structure and dynamics of our brain.

One of the obvious contemporary changes in our environment is the emergence (and current dominance) of the Internet. In this essay, we explore ways in which the Internet is changing our brains—and ways of brains are modifying the nature and use of the Internet. We specifically focus on human memory and explore how the Internet can be both a helpmate to human memory and a source of distraction and potential impairment of human memory.

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