Over on the Digital Natives blog, Nikki Leon wonders whether or not Digital Natives need to start tying strings to their fingers.
Are Digital Natives forgetting how to remember? This was Anne Balsamo’s parting suggestion at the Berkman luncheon last Tuesday,
and it chilled the gathering instantly. Up to that point, Balsamo’s
talk had been largely upbeat, a primer on the power of what she calls
the “technological imagination” — the “quality of mind the enables
people to think with technology, to transform what is known into what
is possible, and to evaluate the consequences of such creation from
multiple perspectives” (as she explains in her essay “Taking Culture Seriously”).
Balsamo highlighted many positive aspects of the Digital Age, including
the development of new kinds of literacy and the transformative
influence of technology on education and art. Nevertheless, her final
thought reminded us that with the great gains of digital technology
come inalterable change and inevitable loss.
What Balsamo intimated was this: Digital Natives are unconcerned
with remembering events and data because they can usually find the
information they need online. My own experience indicates this is true.
Take, for example, the act of remembering the decline and fall of the
Roman Empire. In a pre-internet age, a young person might have felt
compelled to memorize its approximate date, the circumstances that led
to its collapse, and, just maybe, the fact that someone named Edward
Gibbon wrote a giant book about it. A Digital Native, on the other
hand, can say, “I’ll look it up later on Wikipedia,” and leave it at
that. This nonchalance towards remembering facts applies to experiences
as well. For Digital Natives, a party, rock concert, or political rally
is no longer a prized moment shared with a select few, no longer an
ephemeral event that will live on only if attendees choose to remember
it. Before a concert has even begun, before tickets are even available,
a Digital Native can network with other fans, buy merchandise at the
band’s website, or download tracks that will be played live on stage.
If a Digital Native can’t make it to a political rally, he or she need
only follow the event’s twitter feed. And if the Digital Native can’t
remember what, exactly, he or she did last night, no matter – it’s all
been recorded in a friend’s Facebook photo album for the entire school
to see. In Balsamo’s view, the Internet has become a prosthetic memory;
as Digital Natives rely on it, their own capacity for recall only grows