Thursday, May 22, 2014

Do you know what you were doing when ... you took that photo?

"After you take photos, do you remember the photos?  Do you ever go back and look at them?" asked the friend a few weeks ago.

Even my daughter would have responded on my behalf with a emphatic yes.  The daughter once commented, with a highly annoyed tone and look, that I perhaps even remember every damn thing that I ever learnt in school.  I would guess that I had ticked her off with some fatherly mansplaining.  Not now, but years ago.  But, I am sure it was not my fault--there is a high probability that every father is intensely disliked at some time or another by his teenage daughter ;)

So, back to the photos.  Do I go back and look at them?  Yes, ma'am!

It should be no surprise, actually, given my intensely reflective approach to life and the autoethnography that shapes my inquiries.  And, of course, I use many of those photos right here in this blog.  Even the selfies; especially the selfies!

I love digital photography for the very reason that I can organize them in directories and can easily pull them up whenever I think of any.  I look at a photograph that I have taken and I am immediately mentally transported to that time and place.

It turns out that even in this behavior, I am quite an odd man out!  NPR had a segment on whether we are experiencing less and recording more.  Not me--I think I am recording way more than I have done in my life and am experiencing way more than ever.  There is no "photo taking impairment effect" in me.

So, why might many others be recording more and experiencing less?  The explanation, which sounded more like a hypothesis to me, is:
when we rely on an external memory aid, you mentally count on the camera to remember for you. As soon as you hit click on that camera, it's as if you've outsourced your memory and you've said to your brain, you know what, you don't have to process any more information 'cause the camera's going to remember for me. So, any time we kind of count on these external memory devices, we're taking away from the kind of mental cognitive processing that might help us actually remember that stuff on our own.
I have not outsourced the collection of my experiences.  But, I do worry about me increasingly choosing not to commit to my memory facts and factoids, like I used to in the years when my daughter got annoyed with me.  Instead, I outsource that memory aspect to Google.  And, yes, I have blogged about that before; back in January 2013, I wrote:
As access to information increased, I noticed that I was committing to memory less information than what had otherwise been my practice.  Over the years, I have changed my approach to make it easier for me to absorb a lot more ideas, without getting trapped into the mechanics of retaining the minute details. I worry mostly about retaining the big picture.
Did I think it was a good or a bad idea to use Google as my mental crutch?  I quoted Google's Chief Technology Advocate:
Effectively, people are about 20 IQ points smarter now because of Google Search and Maps. They don't give Google credit for it, which is fine; they think they're smarter, because they can rely on these tools.
So, here is what I am convinced about: all these digital tools are awesome, but only when we know how to make them make us smarter.  Let me put it another way: we need to be smart enough to know hot to use these tools that can then make us appear smarter than we otherwise would be.

Here is the worry I have, especially with students--they seem to easily overlook the fact that they need to get smart before they can effectively put these smart technologies to use.  It is about using the digital camera that makes the experiences that much more enriching.  It is about knowing how to use Google so that we can make meaning more efficiently and effectively.  But, what if that getting smart in the first place is not happening via the education system?  What if it mostly is the case of (experiencing) learning less and (recording) web-surfing more?  They can have all the photos and all the Google results, but have they learnt how to make meaning of them?  And, to make things worse, they tend to equate the web-surfing and Googling to, cough, knowledge itself!

Of course, I won't discuss this with students--I know fully well that the probability is really high that every instructor is intensely disliked by students at least at some point, especially towards the end of the term ;)

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