In this thoughtful, witty editorial the cognitive psychologist and memory specialist Amanda Barnier reflects on the way that her iPhone is becoming a part of her extended mind, as she increasingly relies on it to substitute for her own faulty memory processes:
As a full-time academic and mother of two small children – a five-year-old son just starting school and an 18-month-old daughter yet to sleep through the night – I am chronically sleep deprived. Perhaps as a result of one or more of these circumstances, in the past year I have experienced memory difficulties: forgetting words, forgetting appointments, forgetting my wallet, forgetting my children, etc. To compensate, I now rely on – and have altered my memory practices to best integrate with – a range of iPhone applications (‘apps’) that: keep track of my appointments; collect, organize and remind me of tasks at work and home; warn me of family and friends’ birthdays or to pay bills; remember my menu plan for the week and the groceries I need to buy; record events that happen each day; and even tell me what I should be doing at any moment of the day...together, my iPhone and I currently are more successful than just me alone.
Barnier places her relationship with her iPhone in the wider context of what psychologists call "social scaffolding"; the way we arrange our environment, and especially our relationships, to aid our mental processing and to compensate for our individual shortcomings. Married couples outsource parts of their memory to each other, and reconstruct the story of their life together in collaboration; when a couple is parted, through divorce or death, they lose a part of their minds. Similarly, if you take a person with Alzheimer's out of a very familiar environment and place them somewhere, they may be losing some of the remaining strands keeping them attached to reality.
Barnier imagines that losing her iPhone will be, in a trivial way, something like a bereavement.
(To follow this blog - and me - on Twitter, click here)