Is there something wrong with not remembering any phone numbers?

Don't interrupt me I'm dialing! To those of us who had to use the phone books and directories, this phrase is very familiar to us. We must not forget that our memory system is prepared to maintain and work with information, but it is quite vulnerable to interference. If we're interrupted, it's easy to make a mistake.

One of the key components in our daily operations is the so-called working memory. It takes care, among other things, that we keep materials or information active in our minds with which to carry out different tasks. For example, dialing a phone number, or mentally adding up the prices of the products that we put in the shopping cart to see if we can afford it with the money in our pocket.

One of the most classic models on its operation was presented by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch in the year 74 of the last century, and many of his predictions come true with clockwork precision. They came to say that, when our brain works with a certain material, the presentation of other material with the same characteristics causes errors in our processing. Hence, if they speak to us while we mentally review a phone number, the most normal thing is that we dial wrong.

Technology helps memory “relax”

The latest technological advances have allowed our working memory to “relax”, greatly facilitating (or even increasing) our ability to be operational. In practice, it implies that we do not need to retain any phone number in memory, because the agendas of our mobile devices can dial any phone by simply indicating the name of the recipient or clicking on their image.

The same thing happens in other activities of daily life: cars incorporate on-board computers that indicate the shortest route to follow to reach a destination, varying the route depending on the traffic or the driver's preferences, and at the same time facilitating diversion when refuel if necessary.

The question that arises is whether so much "support" will not be detrimental to a brain system that, being plastic, requires its use to maintain full functionality. The principle of "use it or lose it" is directly applicable to our neuroendocrine system, which demands activity to retain the highest standards of functioning. We should not think that our working memory is an exception.

There are numerous examples that should alert us. A clear example is what happens in the case of the “phantom limb”. When a limb is lost, the reduction in sensory input ends up causing alterations in the cortical activity of the region that processes these inputs. and that generates patterns that cause the sensation of the missing limb.

Complement without substituting

Does this mean that we must give up the facilities of the new times? We think not. Digital assistants complement the functioning of our cognitive system, support its activity and improve decision-making processes. But these external aids must have a complementary character and not a substitute for effort and daily practice.

When are these external aids especially useful? When we have a lower working memory capacity, or brain damage related to frontal bilateral areas.

In cases of injury, depending on the extent and severity of the injury, compensatory strategies are used to reduce the impact of cognitive deficits on the person's daily life. And yet, even in those cases, neuropsychological rehabilitation tries first to promote the recovery (restitution) of the affected cognitive functions, before providing the person with compensatory or substitution strategies.

It's clear that jotting down information on a digital tablet, or any other device, can free up the consumption of limited cognitive resources from our working memory, leaving them available for arduous tasks that require more attention. But what if these devices planned for us, reasoned for us, and made decisions for us? Would it be just as liberating?

We would have to ask them what emotional state they had when they did that work for us and if they took into account such “human” aspects as “just because”, “because I like it” or “because I want to”. And if, finally, they do – or let them do –, wouldn't we start to be less human?

The ability to keep information activated in our mind, relate it to the current task and to memories, to emotions, create new ideas, extend, stretch existing ones, inhibit what does not interest us, or relate apparently distant fragments in our memory allows us being flexible, adapting to a changing and dynamic environment, finding new solutions, makes us creative. Should we give up these functions? You decide.

This article comes from The Conversation. read here the original.

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