2,022. That is the average number of text messages sent by an American per month. The question to be asked based on this statistic, is how much of the information from those text messages is actually retained? Due to the simplicity of accessing our messages at any time, we as individuals are spending less time remembering what is said to us, knowing that the information is available to us to read. Based on an article from Bustle, statistics from Business Insider, and interviews conducted on people in different age groups, I will be able to show the negative effect that text, instant and other forms of threaded messaging systems have on our memory. I will also present some of the counter arguments that support how texting is beneficial to the way we remember things as well.
The way we communicate today has immensely evolved compared to the forms of communication available just over two decades ago, when the SMS message was commercially introduced on December 3rd, 1992. A month later, the first AOL instant message was sent by Ted Leonsis to his wife (Shontell p. 5). Since then new technologies, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops help push the software advances of instant messaging, emails and social networking. Concurring with the luxury of unlimited messages and networking data, the amount of information shared between individuals has come to be virtually infinite. Certain plans were not available in the early histories of most phone carriers, placing a price on individual SMS messages that were sent, making the usage of sending them less common. In fact, having a cell phone or personal computer in general during the 1990s was considered a luxury in itself. In today’s world they’re seen as a necessity, both for work and personal uses. Corporations use services like Facebook Messenger to send messages to others due to its convenience. The idea of a message that sends across the world faster than we can breathe is enticing. The concern however, is will this be just as beneficial to our memory in the long run, or will it lead to the deterioration of one of most precious functions of the human brain?
The youth will one day rule our world. This can be both an exhilarating and frightening statement. Majority of texting comes from those ages 12-25, in which the average American would send 357 messages per month, based on a Globe and Mail article. Students ages 11-14 were included in an experiment that tested those that do and do use cell phones. Those that used cell phones were “a lot faster on the tests, but significantly less accurate” (p. 5) and also made “more mistakes in tasks involving memory, attention span and learning” (p. 3). Our world moves at a swift place, and technology places a major impact on that. Those that text vigorously tend to usually move faster than those that text on occasions, but prove to be less accurate in things such as tests, speaking and proper writing. This is due to the effect of our memory not being engaged since we are most likely not allowed to use our phones in most situations, giving our brains the visual of a new and unfamiliar environment. Based on John Medina’s Brain Rules, memory is based on us being able to “reproduce the environment in which you first put it into your brain” (159).
John Medina, a molecular biologist who does most of his study on the brain and how its functions, wrote a book that shows the basic functions of brain and how our everyday activities affect such functions. In his book Brain Rules, he says that we must “repeat to remember” (125). Based on personal interviews that I have done with classmates and relatives, this statement isn’t always correct. When asked if text messages are usually kept and referred back to, majority of those that I had questioned said that they do in fact keep their messages and look back at them, which the exception saying that they do not keep their messages at all. One person in particular however, my girlfriend Thaleisha Walker, had said “I don’t usually remember what I had said in text messages beacause I can easily just go back to it and see what it says.” This proves that we are taking less time trying to retain the information gathered in our digital conversations due to the simplicity of going back to reference it. Another fact that goes along with this is majority of those I have interviewed do not read the full text message when referring back to, they just skim through it. This is a great connection to Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, in which he mentions that due to the advancement in technology, he finds himself and others reading a lot less and that we “fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing” (7). I also asked those that I had interviewed if they read Web articles in its entirety, or if they just skim through those as well for main points. Those that skim through messages when referring back to them were the same ones that skim through articles on the Internet as well, but they’re also the ones that tend to remember what they read in those articles less as well. They are also the ones that rather hear something be told to them than read it, saying that they remember things better when Its verbally stated to them. This is why Raveen McKay and Jerard D’Andrade, both in their early 30s, rather speak on the phone than text, being that when asked they said they only send about 3-5 messages daily.
While we tend to forget things due to our ability to just reads over messages, scientists are conducting experiments that will show the benefits that come along with it. As shown in an article by Psychology Press, SMS text messages are being used to help those with brain injuries acquire basic mental functions, the main two being attention and memory. “There is a sound evidence that mobile phones and text messages may be an effective means of supporting impaired memory function” (106). This experiment shows that participants revealed improvement in recalls for goals reminded by text messages. Also referring back to Medina and how we should “repeat to remember”, reading messages in its entirety to refresh ourselves of what was said would improve our long term memory overall. This will be a task for our rapidly moving society, considering that majority of people would rather skim through messages or just not refer back to them at all if it’s not needed to. Text messages are still works of writing, and just like any book, continuously seeing this information will be a positive action towards strengthening our long term memory.
Our memory is more than just a function of our brain; it’s our own child and should be cared for like as if it has a life of its own. Technology continues to advance as fast as we do as human beings, from the Internet to even simpler aspects like text messages. Within these advances, we should try our best to keep our elongation of our memory moving at the same pace of technology, trying to keep it in tact before we realize that we have taken for granted the one of the most important functions of the brain.
Barton, Adriana. “Texting may rewire young brains.” The Globe and Mail (Canada). (17 August 2009 Monday): 802 Words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 25 Nov. 2015
Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing t Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print
Culley, Campbell and Jonathan J. Evans. “SMS Text Messaging As A Means Of Increasing Recall Of Therapy Goals In Brain Injury Rehabilitation: A Single-Blind Within-Subjects Trial.” Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 20.1 (2010): 103-119. Academic Search Complete. Web. 25 Nov. 2015
D’Andrade, Jerard. Personal Interview. 7 December 2015
Greene, Twana. Personal Interview. 7 Dec. 2105
McKay, Raveen. Personal Interview. 29 Nov 2015
Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press, 2014. Print
Shontell, Alyson. “The First Ever Email, the First Tweet, and 10 Other Famous Internet Firsts.” Yahoo Finance. Business Insider, 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Dec. 2015
Walker, Thaleisha. Personal Interview. 1 Dec. 2015