THE BLOG

iForget: How the iPhone Killed Memory

04/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

2009-03-03-iphone.pngThe iPhone is a gorgeous, near-perfect device that reads minds and moves planets. It's also destroying the traditional concept of memory.

Start with the basics: voice calls. Of all the phone numbers I use regularly, I only know five by heart--my childhood home, my wife's cellphone, my wife's office number, and the cellphone numbers of two colleagues. Excluded from that list is my entire biological family, my best friends, even my home phone. Even so, I can easily rattle off the home phone numbers of my top ten friends from high school; it's been twelve years since I last dropped a dime but the finger patterns are ingrained through years of repetition.

Move on to the rest of life. How do you get to the airport? Can't remember; map it on my iPhone. What time does your flight leave? I have no idea, but my iPhone does. Who won last night? I saw the score somewhere; better ask the iPhone guru. How many calories in a Caesar salad? Dr. iPhone I presume.

Then there are the ADD iPhone habits. Two minutes at the bus stop and I'm reading up on the latest Manny Ramirez contract shenanigans. During commercial breaks I hop onto Facebook and check the updates about my friends' kids' bowel movements. Waiting in line at the bank I hop onto the App Store and download a brain teaser application I'll delete a week later. Nothing I can remember; nothing WORTH remembering; and the attention span of a horny teenager.

I rarely plan anymore because I don't need to; iPhone has the answer. Not that I miss planning, or memorizing things, or waiting to find a computer or newspaper to get the sports score. Try the thing--it knows what you want to do. One touch to delete an email. Pinch and push the screen to check movie times. Feels as natural as blowing your nose.

Here the traditionalist in me rises to defend the classical structures formed by planning ahead, an organizational mindset that makes me think strategically and trains me to anticipate. As for memorization--few like the act of doing it, but there's nothing quite like knowing something in your head, having answers even out of cellphone coverage. Not to mention being able to survive a 12-hour Internet-free plane ride without freaking out.

But I won't defend the buggywhip for long. Without the iPhone I immediately become less current, and more frequently bored, and relatively incommunicado, a social outcast, the equivalent of running with a parachute. The iPhone and other smartphones are mind-blowing devices, and they're reshaping how we remember, how we interact, how we filter information, how we live.

Look around in any public place. We're all doing it, typing away or chatting or reading or watching videos on our phones. This is a societal movement. Traditional concepts of memory and thought are changing drastically, irrevocably. There will be misunderstandings, hurt feelings, fear, long expert debates over how we absorb information, with a cast of revolutionaries and reactionaries and missionaries and scaremongers.

This shifting landscape isn't good or bad--it is. Try to remember to make a note of it on your iPhone.