Blog Post

Digital Memory

Digital Memory


This semester, I’m teaching two History courses.  At our last session today, we were reviewing, reflecting on, this semester, and one of my students blurted out, “But we don’t really need to remember any of this anymore.”  Although he was initially talking about “memorizing” information, his point of view struck up an interesting conversation around definitions of data, information, memory, and knowledge and how new tools in the digital age change these terms.

Most students agreed that, beyond some of their classes’ exams (which they see as outdated), they don’t see the professional value in remembering information as it can be quickly be quickly recalled with their mobile devices—a quick show of hands revealed that over ninety-percent of students from the two courses owned at least a mobile phone through which they access the Internet.

While I wasn’t surprised by the idea, I was surprised that the feeling was unanimous from the class (a class that is so diverse).  And among the books on my desk at the moment, I’ve been working through Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger. Mayer-Schönberger introduces this idea of digital memory and examines how the digital is changing the way we remember and forget. He observes forgetting at a crucial part of humankind and that digital technologies actually prevent us from forgetting. 


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In an informal quiz today, few students could recall much from Francis Parkman’s book The Oregon Trail; they recalled a bit more from a textbook & Blackboard assignments and much more than that about the session in which I showed pictures of a vacation (and told stories) of following the trail . . . It was an Internet/social media assignment and personal experiences/past conversations with the 1971 Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) computer game The Oregon Trail.


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I’m definitely becoming more interested in this topic and considering the role of digitally-born work on the nature of memory, remembrance, and memorialization (and, of course, forgetting).  What are others’ thoughts? 

How is the digital beneficial and/or detrimental to memory and remembrance?

Does the digital privilege some events, ideas, media, etc., over others?  

How will these changes be realized in education?


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