Remember?

I started this year off with a major life change. After years of working from home as a freelance writer, I accepted a job offer, and I’m now the Communications Specialist at Tobacco Plains Indian Band. While I’m still finding my footing with the home/work/band balance, the job has been incredibly rewarding, and pushed my understanding of history far beyond what I thought I knew. 

Last week something got me thinking. Part of my job is to conduct interviews and write profiles about people who have been long-time members of the Tobacco Plains community and organization. My latest interview was with a fascinating man named Tom Phillipps. Tom’s history is storied and rich, dating back to the origins of permanent settlement in the Elk Valley. One of the things that really struck me during this enlightening conversation was that Tom could rattle off events and dates like they were written on the table in front of him. Things that happened decades ago were on the tip of his tongue, ready to be recalled in detail. Meanwhile, I have to refer to the photos on my phone to see what I did last spring break or scroll through my contacts to find my mom’s cell phone number. Sadly, I’m not joking. So, as I was listening to Tom recall the names of rivers and trails and the dates they were discovered and who discovered them, I began to wonder, is something wrong with my memory?

After a quick Google, I found an article written in The Guardian by Rebecca Seal that confirmed my hunch. Yup, we’re screwing up our memories, and once again, we have our smart phones to blame. Seal explains there’s a researched phenomenon called “digital amnesia” that is on the rise. Here’s the gist: the more reliant we become on our phones to remind us of phone numbers, addresses, appointments, the less we need our brain – the hippocampus to be exact – to remember stuff. And the less we use our memory, the worse it performs. Just like our bodies. When we don’t use our muscles, they atrophy. The less we move, the less we can move. It’s your run-of-the-mill vicious circle. Before our phones became the pocket-universe, we used to drive around cities using memorized directions. If we got lost? We’d find a pay phone and call somebody because we knew their phone number! I can still recall the digits of my old neighbours, my first best friend, and Blockbuster Video, because back then I was paying attention. But my mom’s new cell? Nope. Don’t know it. Here’s something even scarier. Science writer and author Catherine Price has recently discovered that our constant state of distraction is interfering with our brain’s ability to process and store memories correctly. Turns out, there’s no such thing as multi-tasking when it comes to transferring memories from short to long term. If we become distracted during this crucial brain function, memories can be lost, and the less core memories we’re storing, the less material we have to draw on for conversation, creativity, inspiration, nostalgia. That little tidbit scared the hell out of me, because this is what we learn from. Our memories become the fabric of who we are, guardrails to keep us from repeating mistakes, and a north star to guide us to what and who we love. I don’t know what’s more important than that, and if we forget these things, we can’t Google it. Siri doesn’t know. We just have to lift up our heads and be present. Pay attention to what’s happening, and how it’s making you feel. Then you can take it with you forever.