Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Our brains VS copious amounts of knowledge.

In chapter three of 'The Design of Everyday Things", Norman really got my attention when he opened the discussion of the way our brains retain knowledge, by talking about the ridiculous amount of alphanumeric information we have to remember for our everyday lives.

As Norman so aptly puts it, "There seems to be a conspiracy, one calculated to destroy our sanity by overloading our memory." I noted that this book was copy written in 1988, so I am assuming that the problems Norman had with memorizing numbers and codes back when he was composing this book were bad, but in this current day and age, I am positive it is far worse.

Being a college student in the twenty-first century certainly has its perks, but there are also disadvantages when it comes to the amount of superfluous information I am required to retain on a daily basis. Allow me to make a list.

- 10 digit telephone numbers, but now that everyone has a cell phone, 10 digits is likely to become 20, plus fax numbers and extensions etc.

-Now that the internet has been fully integrated into nearly everyone's daily lives, we have to remember urls, and it's true that your computer tries to help you with this by remembering past websites visited, but you are given new urls to remember by your teachers almost daily.

-Speaking of the internet, I have 3 different blogs, 2 different email accounts, 3 different social networking site accounts, plus various other assundry web pages that require me to remember my user name and password so I can view my top secret information! This process could be made easier if someone could get around to creating a unversial standard, but a password that is good for one site, may not be good enough for another, and what if someone is already using your common username? Then you are forced to think of something similar yet different which you are bound to forget. Once again, I know that the computer tries to help you with remembering all of this information by "remembering you", but sometimes that doesn't work. Sometimes the system malfunctions, or you are forced to clear your cache, or you are on someone else's computer. In events such as this, it's not uncommon for me to forget the information to some of my less frequently used accounts, and need to email them for help, (that is assuming that I can remember my email information).

Then of course there are the old faithfuls that Norman mentioned; social security, license number, postal codes, birthdays, and so it goes. The amount of seemingly useless crap we have to stuff into our minds for our day to day lives is enough to make my head spin at times, but alas in my head is where it must stay. Being that I am in school, I can't really afford to take the chance of writing all of this information down in a daily planner that I then also have to remember to take to school with me along with the million other books and badges, and readings and what not.

Later on in the chapter, Norman makes a comment about wishing he had a small personal computer that could keep track of all of his numbers and codes. I am fairly sure we have those now in the form of palm pilots, blackberries and iphones, but really, they still aren't as handy as just plain old remembering. Besides, technology breaks. What if you are on your way to an important business meeting and you drop your blackberry in a puddle? Oh no! Unless you have a back up source of information, you better hope you have all of the notes and numbers and emails stored in there committed to memory.

It has been over twenty years since Norman composed this book, and the face of the world has definitely changed since then, which leaves me to wonder just how many more numbers and codes we will have to remember twenty years from now.

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