Your phone # is?… Your birthday is?… checking my “smart” phone

There was a time, many many years ago, when I knew the phone numbers of my immediate family and my best friends…those days are pretty much over. Today, I often have to check my “smart” phone’s directory, or just do so to avoid typing the number (for the few cases that I actually know it). The same goes with birthdays, I was very good at knowing my relatives and good friends, of course I still know those that I memorized a while ago. But in the case of my new friends, I don’t know. I have these dates written in a wall calendar, YES I USE ONE OF THOSE, and of course Facebook and Outlook would send me reminders.

Clive Thompson mentions in his book “Smarter Than You Think…How technology is changing our minds for better”, among other interesting points, technology (new digital tools) has/have enable humans to expand their memory. Yes, this is true from the perspective of external memory and all the data that can be stored, and information that we can get access to. But hasn’t this resulted in a shrinkage of our internal memory? Like Mr. Thompson, I don’t believe neuroscience is ready to analyze what is happening to our brains as a result of continuous interaction with technological devices. Or maybe now it is, don’t really know. The point I want to make is: we have definitely change our habits. The need that we had before to memorize appears to no longer be there. Yet in the event of an emergency, and the fatal circumstance of no “smart” phone to check, the perspective would be different. Seems like now we focus more on short term memory, and rely on the technology surrounding us to take charge of the long term memory.

As in most cases, the use of advanced technology in classrooms environments has pros and cons. I have seen situations like those expresed by Darren Rosenblum in “Leave your laptops at the Door to My Classroom“, where students would focus in their computers or cellphones, rather than the class activities. One would think that at graduate level classes this would not be a problem, because “graduate students are more mature than undergraduate students, and they really want to be there” (in quotation marks because I am sure someone else has already said this). But that is not the reality, I have sit in several graduate courses where this happens. So it is not a matter of education level….

I CONFESS: I HAVE DONE IT… I think it is a total disrespect to the professor and classmates (my apologies for past and future events). Yet it is not the laptop’s or phone’s fault, it is the individual. I could easily get distracted with a piece of paper and pen, making a drawing (or attempting to do so) or writing my plan for the next day, or whatever. So the problem is not the how? or the what? but the why? Why do I check my phone while in class? or anything else for that matter? or at almost any moment? The answer should be pretty obvious, lack of concentration, mindfulness, not being able to focus in the moment. For more on this, I invite you to read Sharon Salzberg’s “Three Simple Ways to Pay Attention”, CONCENTRATION, MINDFULNESS and COMPASSION. Perhaps it is the teacher’s fault too (respectful comment, not really applicable to GEDI classes), because sometimes class topics are boring or the class is boring even if the topic is interesting. I am planning to ask students to use their cellphones/laptops in my classes, for educational purposes, the how is another topic.

So, to finish this post before I lose you, and your interest goes somewhere else, let me finish with the following: it is up to you how to embrace technology in your everyday life (not that you needed to read it, but sometimes a reminder that you are owner of your decisions is not bad). If you want to keep checking your phone every five minutes, do it, but better not in class. If you want to continue taking notes in paper, do it. If you like taking notes in a laptop/tablet, keep doing it. If you like to write the birthdays (date) of your relatives and friends in a wall calendar (or any other calendar), YOU ARE AN AWESOME PERSON, keep doing it. If not, YOU ARE AWESOME TOO, but consider doing it :). What matters is how and when you use the technology available for you. “The Myth of the Disconnected Life”, a nice article on the how/when by Jason Farman.

Almost forgot, I purposely wrote “smart” phone, because we are the smart ones, not the phone… sometimes we tend to forget that.

Let’s keep learning. Let’s keep educating. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s keep asking WHY. Let’s continue to be more mindful. Let’s forget about A, B, C, D, E and F (the grades, not the letters) … easier said than done. Let’s focus on making sure to help each other out. Let’s create successful teams. Let’s remember that we are unique and have differences, but we have at least one common element among us, perhaps the most important one: we are HUMANS (ambigous term nowadays?). Let’s be smarter than the “smart” technology we have created, let’s use it appropriately…. (I think this paragraph has become a good “super brief” executive summary of my GEDI journey and blog adventure).

Carlos F. Mantilla P.

4 Comments

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4 Responses to Your phone # is?… Your birthday is?… checking my “smart” phone

  1. alexpfp17

    Well said. I remember memorizing landline numbers, must have had nearly 20 of them committed. At some point it became muscle memory; the buttons of my mom’s old touch-tone phone had wonderful tactile response. Today the only number I really remember is my wife’s and only because I have to put her number into online forms when ordering stuff for her. :p
    I like your external versus internal memory argument. It sounds like science fiction, but I think we’ll eventually achieve the vision that Google’s founders had. Direct brain access to all the data on the web. At that point, what purpose is there to memorize anything? Why bother learning simple math either, when you can presumably have similar access to Wolfram Alpha… At some point humans will be totally helpless without this technology, and the people who bother to learn such things will be seen in the same light as modern day survivalists who take classes on how to survive in the wilderness with primitive technology.
    I guess there is no point in worrying as we literally cannot stop this. One of the readings was talking about the fear that the Gutenberg press would destroy the mental discipline of scholars, but it didn’t matter because the press was so incredibly valuable, it couldn’t be ignored. Same goes for external silicon memory – it is so powerful, that the people who eschew it cannot compete. We really have no choice. Resistance is futile…

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      hi Alex, thanks for your comment, yeah is not really about resistance, do we really need to resist? Like Jyotsana mentioned, it is more about moving through the new environment and taking what works for us, otherwise we will just be angry with the new system all the time…so let’s keep moving forward

  2. Jyotsana

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Carlos! You bring up some very good points. I said this on someone else’s blog too that trying to force the inevitable out is not the smart thing to do but more so knowing how to utilize it best as an extension of what it can do for the class and add to it.

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