Theory on Generational Differences in Memory

Have you ever noticed that people who are 50+ tend to remember all kinds of details from their childhood that many of us in our 20s & 30s couldn’t remember if our life depended on it? What makes this even more amazing is how much further removed they are from the events than those 20 years younger than themselves and yet names, places, and events seem to be much more easily recalled from those distant years by older generations. Have you experienced this too or am I just weird and have a very poor memory of my past?

Here is my theory on this. In the 1940s the technological bubble was just beginning to inflate. People who are in their 60′s today remember their first tv, which may have been one of the first in their neighborhood. They didn’t have the internet, zillions of magazines, video games, ipods, iphons, etc. They only encountered a limited amount of information and stimuli on a daily basis. Today I can check my email from the phone in my pocket and constantly get bombarded with information. Facebook provides a million details about people I never wanted to know. I can read from hundreds of excellent Christian blogs. The amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis is enormously larger than it was 40 years ago.

Our minds can only retain so much information. The information overload we face today and what we value as important information to retain may mean a difficulty in remembering all the obscure things that older generations remember. It would make sense that you are more likely to retain a higher percentage of the information you receive if you limit the amount of information you perceive. For example, if they had 100 important pieces of information given to them in the 1950s and we have 1000. Who is likely to have a better memory of each of those pieces of information?

Do you think that is plausible or have I thought way too hard about something that is absolutely pointless?

7 Responses to Theory on Generational Differences in Memory

  1. Ted says:

    my experience is the exact opposite, in terms of which generations can remember what and how much.

  2. James Wood says:

    The brain scientists say that we record and retain every piece of information we ever come across. Our memory is just a cataloging system that allows us to access the information.

    I think it has more to do with the value we place on memory. We don’t discipline ourselves to remember something because we can just google it. Earlier generations had to memorize long chunks of speeches and their multiplication tables. Now we just get a clip on YouTube and use a calculator.

    Our ability hasn’t diminished, but our aptitude has.

  3. Ben Chilcote says:

    And it’s funny because some friends and I were just having this exact discussion a few weeks ago. My experience has definitely been the same. Older generations know dates of when they lived certain places (to the month) and when they worked certain places and who their boss was and their neighbor’s anniversary.

    My first thought is that our generation (I’m 30) doesn’t really care about that stuff. Our lives are changing so rapidly we probably don’t see any value in retaining the knowledge. We were recently discussing over the holiday how we don’t even know people’s phone numbers anymore because we can just look up the name in our contacts on our phone. I agree with James – we know we can just look it up. Google is almost always at my fingertips to answer a question and my PowerBook is usually at hand to look up anything important.

    I just think that we are more concerned about the consummation of the here and now – experiencing the day and then discarding it because we know a new one comes tomorrow – filled with more consumable experiences. Why be an information pack rat when it’s already stored everywhere else.

    So I guess another question is – is that bad or good?

  4. WesWoodell says:

    I just read a book called Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Faith by a guy named Shane Hipps, and he talks quite a bit about technologies affect on our memory.

    In literate cultures, memory isn’t as important – in oral cultures, memory is everything. We train how memory functions in our brain through the types of stimuli and media we ingest. Those growing up in a strictly oral culture will have amazing memories – those growing up in literate cultures – not as amazing. Those growing up in the information age who constantly use the internet – barely any memory at all.

  5. Barry Fergus Jones says:

    Matt,

    As always, I admire and like the way your mind works.

    I could bloviate on this at considerable link, but let me zero in on one salient point from my own mental bent of Information Technologist of the last 29 years.

    You are right that we are bombarded incessantly today, far,far more than when I was growing up. And yet, it is *DATA*, not *information* that we, and especially the gen’s after us Boomers, are bombarded with. There is all the difference between the two, cognitively and axiologically.

    Most of the bit torrents that unceasingly flow these days merely present data, not useful information. All this data causes “helmet fires” likes those that fighter jocks in 3rd generation fighter planes reported.

    Twitter is the prime example of banal, incessant data. Though it can prove very useful, studies have shown that approximately 80% of it is drivel. Now that I come to think of it, that fits Pareto’s principle perfectly.

    Again, inasmuch as I like the bent of your cranium, let me know what you think, brother.

  6. Jerry Starling says:

    The problem with losing “memory” of the past is that we lose a sense of history and its lessons. Hence, we think that what is happening NOW is all of reality. While we do live in the present, the past is there as a teacher that, collectively as a society, we tend to ignore.

    On the other hand, in the church we tend to worship our past, camp in it, and refuse to move on beyond it. This might be ok IF our past truly reflected God’s Word instead of the past’s interpretation of God’s Word, which it does at best only imperfectly.

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