Memory, Intimacy, And The Web

I’ve been thinking about it since Troy mentioned to me that he thought Google was ruining his memory. And I thought I found confirmation of it when I read Gladwell’s description of Daniel Wegner, et al’s Transactive Memory in Close Relationships:

When we talk about memory, we aren’t just talking about ideas and impressions and facts stored inside our heads. An awful lot of what we remember is actually stored outside our brains. Most of us deliberately don’t memorize most of the phone numbers we need. But we do memorize where to find them — in a phone book, or in our personal Rolodex.

You’d think this is where I say Google fits, but I’d argue it goes deeper. Gladwell continues:

Perhaps more important, though, we store information with other people. Couples do this automatically. …Wegner argues that when people know each other well, they create an implicit joint memory system — a transactive memory system — which is based on an understanding about who is best suited to remember what kinds of things.

This joint memory, claim Gladwell and Wegner argue, is part of what intimacy means.

So, perhaps there’s a continuum between phonebooks and life-partners. Not withstanding reports that 24% of Americans say the web can replace a significant other, where does today’s internet fit?

Before you answer that, consider eBay Fever and Anne Muxel’s Family Memory, a Sociology of Intimacy:

Family memory is also and above all a presence inside us which recalls itself to us on the basis of images, impressions, and sensations. When it opens up its doors, it lets out, as if by magic, a burst of odors, sounds, an anecdote, a familiar joke, an object, a photo, the voices of familiar characters, the memory of their bodies, of their gestures, like an image of a childhood place, a recipe, etc., all of these evocations working as cues to bring the past back into the present.