While one might easily dismiss this as a collective “senior moment,” society is facing something never experienced before: a non-stop assault on the senses brought on by rivers of data, a plethora of social-media propelled news, copious multitasking, plus a growing reliance on the memory of digital devices.
- Information overload – Information workers spend all day working with digital data — ephemeral, computerized information that multiplies at internet speed, or about 200,000 kilometers per second (124,000 miles per second). That speed is accelerating life, which, in turn, is making our ability to absorb the growing mountain of information even more challenging. Richard Saul Wurman provided a perfect example in his book Information Anxiety: A daily issue of The New York Times contains more information than the average 17th-century Englishman encountered in a lifetime. A 1996 Reuters study discovered that two out of three (68%) global managers surveyed associated “information overload” with job tension or stress. That finding surfaces another technology parallel. Digital devices often feature something called “volatile memory” — random-access memory (RAM) that requires power to maintain stored information. When power is interrupted, data stored in volatile memory is quickly lost. Stress introduces a similar “loss of power” in people, leading to the human equivalent of volatile memory loss: mild cognitive impairment.
- Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – The incidences are numerous. You’re about to mention a name and suddenly realize you can’t recall it. “It’s at the tip of my tongue,” you mutter embarrassedly. “Happens to me all time,” your sympathetic listener responds. You’re both suffering from “mild cognitive impairment.” And so do billions of others. Scientists note that average scores on memory tests decline steadily after age 25. By midlife, memory erosion accelerates, with humans losing on average 1% of brain volume each year. Technology-induced stress and multitasking are accelerating the onset of MCI.
- Substitute memory – There is also growing evidence that smartphones, complete with built-in calculators, speed-dialing, GPS, and other memory-saving aids, have reduced the need for mental acuity, causing the brain to be “exercised” less than ever before.
- Multitasking – The Time Compression Ubertrend, the Acceleration of Life, requires more multitasking, which leads to memory compartmentalization — anything that doesn’t fit into a byte-length sector is unable to connect to its real-world cohort. As a result, multitaskers forget more. Research by psychologist Denise Park at the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana shows that adults who multitask frequently have more memory complaints than their parents in their 70s.
- Movie predictions – Hollywood has been documenting this phenomenon in a host of movies, many even portraying the capabilities of overwriting and erasing human memory. From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Paycheck to Memento to Total Recall to the entire Matrix trilogy, future human memory appears reprogrammable and rewritable, much like erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM). “ Predicting the Future Blade Runner-Style” discusses the ability of science fiction movies to predict the future accurately.
- Memory training – The good news is that a National Institutes of Health study found that 26% of those who received a 10-session “brain plasticity-based” memory training program showed substantial improvement lasting at least two years, with periodic “booster” sessions helping even more.
- Memory drugs – Looming on the horizon are sci-fi-like drug therapies. Researchers in Brooklyn, N.Y. reached a major milestone with the ability to erase certain memories using an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain that hold specific types of memory, such as emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills, pointing to a future where a memory will be fully customizable. A new study by UC San Francisco scientists, published Dec. 1, 2020 in the open-access journal eLife, reports on a new drug, called ISRIB, that has been shown in laboratory studies to restore memory function months after traumatic brain injury; reverse cognitive impairments in Down Syndrome; and shows rapid restoration of youthful cognitive abilities in aged mice.
I have a home with two floors and a bad memory, so I just keep going up and down all day. That’s my exercise.”
— Betty White
Actress, Jan. 27, 2013
The biotech industry will use this early research to develop new therapies that can cure such diseases as Alzheimer’s — treatments bound to create the world’s first “lifestyle” drugs to treat forgetfulness. We’ve dubbed this wonder-drug trend “Memory Protection” — because much like computers, which require memory protection to prevent crashes, human beings are increasingly prone to “memory leaks,” as techies call many software bugs.
The memory protection market could produce the most significant lifestyle drug yet, because who wouldn’t want to stroll down memory lane faster?