Living in a Digitally Defined World

Marin Cohn

Can’t remember whether or not seals have teeth, or what they eat? Google it; it’s at the tip of your fingers, literally, with all the Blackberry and smart-phone devices around. And I can’t say that I haven’t fallen victim to the crowd. I love my Blackberry. I love that I can Mapquest just about anywhere I need to go. I love that I don’t have to remember anyone’s phone number, and that I can write my “to do list” down so that I don’t forget. But then this past week, I lost my phone.

My phone was gone and disconnected. I didn’t know anyone’s phone numbers, I couldn’t remember the meetings I had scheduled for that day, and worse, I couldn’t look anything up – not through Google or even through dictionary.com. Thank goodness I had a computer, which I could use to Wikipedia things at my leisure, but I still had spell-check my assignments.

I had previously contemplated how dependent we are on such devices, but it was then that I first became aware of how much we are losing in this you-have-to-be-connected-at-all-times-digital-age. We are essentially “outsourcing our brains,” as David Brooks the OP-ED editor of the New York Times has called this phenomenon.

One of my grandparents was diagnosed with Alzheimers last year — a horrible disease where your memories essentially erode into confusing overlapping pools of gray. It is something we all fear might eventually happen — I mean, who hasn’t seen The Notebook? But how strong are our memories now? It seems that our memories, rather than belonging to us, personal to our own experiences, are rather dictated by photos on Facebook, the numbers put into our phones and our IM conversations. Without such devices, do our memories continue to exist? Or do they simply exist in this cyber world outside of ourselves, which we click in and out of?

In his recent New York Times article, David Brooks explains his experience in our new digital world, “Until that moment, I had thought that the magic of the Information Age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the Information Age is that it allows us to know less”. I really love that I can Mapquest my way around the tri-state area; that I don’t have the burden of remembering phone numbers, can click onto the computer and be updated about my friend’s lives without actually having to make the effort of speaking to them everyday.

The real question I am posing: What are we losing in this digital age? It seems as though a lot of the time our identities are sort of swallowed by all of our devices, that we ourselves are not the bearers of information or our memories. Instead it is our computers, our phones, our calculators, iTunes. Who knows who chronicles our memories and dictates our music tastes. In order to be ourselves, we constantly need to be connected to an externalized digital world. I just hope there is a big enough hard drive…and that I remember to back it up.