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Memory Hack

by gold stone (2019-05-16)

In a very few short decades we Memory Hack have experienced a revolution as the rate of technological innovation has grown seemingly out of control. I vividly remember one evening in Germany where I was performing a tour as our battalion's Staff Duty Officer. The year was 1980. Upon visiting a squad room in headquarters company, I came upon a young soldier, who had recently arrived from the States. He was sitting at his desk intensely looking at the screen of a small TV hooked up to a 4K Tandy computer. I was amazed. At that time my most sophisticated tech device was an expensive TI four-function calculator. Yet today with our smart homes, iPods, Web-enabled, multimedia cell phones, and our 24/7 access to the Internet, the way we think, remember, and communicate has drastically changed.For decades most neurologists believed that all brain functions were localized in specific geographic areas and that once a capability was lost through trauma or abuse, it was gone forever. However, researchers such as Michael Merzenich, PhD, at UCSF, Edward Taub, PhD, at UAB, and Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, at the Harvard Medical School have shown that experience can restructure the brain. When neural substrates or subordinate networks of neurons become dormant, nearby networks extend into the underutilized areas with all the obsessive enthusiasm of Alabama kudzu. When networks are repeatedly used, then they become denser and more dominant. And, when entire substrates become dysfunctional due to stroke or trauma, entire functions may be relocated to another area. So, what does this mean in our technologically driven world?On one hand, technology allows us to bypass and weaken certain areas of the brain. For instance, my wife has caught me more than once doing simple arithmetic with my HP 12-C rather than attempting to work such problems out in my head as I was taught to do in grammar school. While I'm somewhat embarrassed by some of my new tech-driven habits, I realize that some of the laziness is both promoting neural disuse and giving an opportunity for new networks to begin an encroachment process. Although I do not willingly desire to loose my ability to calculate without electronic devices, I also realize that I am allowing my brain to restructure and develop new capabilities. So, as I acknowledge that I must prevent my total dependence upon these devices, I must also appreciate my new-found abilities.