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 weaker...