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The Spirituality and Practice e-newsletter is a weekly update from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat with teaching stories and links to new posts on the site.

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Is the World Wide Web Becoming Our External Memory Drive


In an article in The Los Angeles Times, Melissa Healy reports on a study led by Columbia psychology professor Betsy Sparrow printed in Science magazine. It studied how we find information and whether and how we store it for later retrieval. Many of us are now involved in a process of "outsourcing" our memories to external devices rather than relying on our own ability to recall names, places, statistics, or other data. The computer puts a world of information at our fingertips and changes the ways our brains choose to remember.

We just returned by car from a trip outside Manhattan and were talking about movies. As we drove through a complicated intersection between Manhattan and the Bronx, we remembered there was a movie with Tom Hanks in which he made a wrong turn in this area. Out of our memories, three of us dredged up that the film was based on a novel by Tom Wolfe and that it was "Blah-da-da-Blah." Then Mary Ann got out her iPhone, accessed the Internet Movie Database through its app, keyed in Tom Hanks, and then scrolled through his filmography until there is was: Bonfire of the Vanities.

We are adapting to this practical value of new technology and relying upon it to be a collaborator in every realm of our daily lives. This is a good thing for now, instead of using our time to chase down hundreds of inconsequential factoids in our memory, we can do more spiritual practices!

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Spiritual Literacy Blog
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