Is it true? Am I programming forgetfulness?

Brainphoto © 2008 dierk schaefer | more info (via: Wylio)
I am listening to Opening to Our Lives with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a podcast about mindfulness tweeted by @micwalker this morning. But I am also writing this post.

Kabat-Zinn asks: Can you hold this moment in awareness?

No, I can’t.

And I wonder if all this multi-tasking is having a profound effect on my memory. This weekend I attended Educon, a fabulous unconference at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Like-minded folks gathered to talk about teaching and learning–and using social media tools to enable this shift we’d like to see.

But that’s not what I want to focus on here. Instead, I want to share two moments of the weekend when I totally forgot a conversation I had had. And it scares me.

One was with my friend @ehelfant, whom I was catching up with at the end of a session.

“Hey,” I asked. “Do you want to walk back to the hotel with us after the next session?”

“Sure,” she responded.

I looked forward to having a few uninterrupted moments to chat with her. And yet, as the next session ended, I wandered downstairs, connecting with two other friends who were waiting, and headed back to the hotel.

“Where are you?” she texted later.

Oh. My. Gosh. I had totally forgotten.

The second incident involved my husband, who called Saturday night to tell I had forgotten the keys to the house. He told me he would leave the house open for me. Yet, as I rode the train on Sunday, I panicked because I realized I had forgotten my keys. I called a local friend who happens to have a key to my house and stopped on my way home.

Later my husband asked: “Didn’t you remember our conversation? I told you I would leave the house open.”

I was stunned. And, frankly, I felt a rush of fear race through my body as this has been happening frequently to me. Alzheimers? Careless thinking? Laziness? Or is it more? Could it be my habits of mind lately–the reading while I’m listening, the talking while I’m texting, the writing while I’m searching–are the cause?

New York Times reporter Tara Parker-Pope wrote about this last year in “An Ugly Toll of Technology: Impatience and Forgetfulness.” She interviewed Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford, who said: “We’re paying a price in terms of our cognitive life because of this virtual lifestyle.”

Dr. Aboujaoude also asks whether the vast storage available in e-mail and on the Internet is preventing many of us from letting go, causing us to retain many old and unnecessary memories at the expense of making new ones. Everything is saved these days, he notes, from the meaningless e-mail sent after a work lunch to the angry online exchange with a spouse.

“If you can’t forget because all this stuff is staring at you, what does that do to your ability to lay down new memories and remember things that you should be remembering?” Dr. Aboujaoude said.

On the podcast now,  Kabat-Zinn is talking about how choice, too, contributes to these cognitive issues.

(See I’m doing it again.) “It’s intoxicating,” he says. You feel powerful because you can make multiple decisions at any given moment–but you lose clarity and focus.

Hmmmm. I am going to take his advice and stop here. I want to attend to what he is saying about finding my center.

I really don’t want to lose my mind.

3 Comments

  1. Man, I can relate with this. My lovely wife completely refuses to talk to me if I’ve got my earbuds in, or even around my neck. I’ve also got to go ahead and unplug any time I need to get real work done.

  2. Yup, Bill. I am really thinking seriously about how all of this is affecting me. It’s here to stay (and I won’t NOT participate in it), but I want to read the compelling research and figure out how to apply it to my life.

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