Communication Technology and Its Affect on People Memory


Communications Technology

Over the years, man has continuously evolved in terms of how they record their ideas and thoughts. In the beginning, ideas were recorded using simple drawings or simple arts. With the changes and development in technology, man can now store their ideas on computers electronically. Also, advancement in technology has led to the increased capability of man to store and process various kinds of information which would seem impossible or overwhelming for the human brain to store. However, even with these undebatable benefits, there has been a considerable discussion on whether communications technology leads to information overload. According to Paul Connerton (2009), ‘informational overload is one of the best devices for forgetting.’ Communication technology leads to people forgetting, being less observant and less intelligent.

Several research pieces discuss that modern communication has negatively impacted modern society ignoring the positive impacts that it has brought to society. In recent years, the number of smartphone, television, internet, and computer users has risen from 20 million in 2007 to over 180 million in 2019. With the significant rise in the number of people with smartphones, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Telegram have risen. This has brought negative influence to society, in that communication technology creates a shallow way of thinking. This paper will explore the impact of contemporary communications technology on modern society and establish that society is not paying less attention, becoming more forgetful or stupid. However, it is the social customs and norms that are changing.

First and foremost, this paper will discuss how contemporary communication technology has negatively affected society. Let’s contemplate on the writing of Phaedrus by Socrates regarding the two ancient gods, Theuth and Thamus. Theuth discovered writing as well as numbers and calculations. Thamus appreciated his writing discovery but criticized it. He described writing as an instrument that increases forgetfulness rather than improving memory. By his logic, Thamus reasoned that with writing, students would fail to reason or understand the content while relying on the writing that they will store for future use. This will, in turn, make the students appear to have so much knowledge and wisdom while in the real sense, they will know nothing.

While writing had been criticized for a long time, a pharaoh from Egypt urged the Egyptians to copy their ancestors and forefathers (Valentine, 2012). According to the pharaoh, their ancestors’ words were left in writing, and he, therefore, urged people to read from the writings and gain wisdom. However, this did not stop the idea of writing from being critiqued. According to McLuhan (1964), literacy or writing created a division between the society, the rich and the poor, and the literate and the illiterate. I agree with McLuhan’s critics that modern communications technology has changed the way individuals communicate, and it will continue to create further social division. More so, written words can be termed as insincere. The reason, written words can be altered or wrongly interpreted, which makes them lose or change their meaning as opposed to words from the speaker’s mouth are direct from the speaker. Not only do the written words lose meaning, but they also separate the reader from the writer, which creates a sense of disconnection in society.

The sense of disconnection is further expanded in contemporary society with technological advancements and capitalism responsible for the thriving of social media sites, mobile devices, and the internet in general. The Frankfurt school of thought was one of the foremost critics of contemporary technological developments. They were basically Marxists who analyzed capitalism and also critiqued and examined why modern societies have failed in realizing human liberation, individual sovereignty, and material success, despite the progressions in technical and production capacities. Frankfurt School scholars further expounds that through tools of mass communication, mass culture being conveyed to audiences reduced the human capability for critical thoughts. These are all binding criticisms when considering the state of modern society. There are still questions about the quality of life for all members of society as well as economic problems.

Modern communications technology has led to competition between media markets. Media markets are competing to dominate the market. With technological advancements, everyone is fighting to get the latest important news just from the touch of our digital screens. All media companies are fighting for a spot, and they all want to have a place on our digital screens for either entertainment, politics, or other news. The larger the market share of the media houses, the larger their income. Media companies earn from advertisements and other well-paid deals depending on their influence in the market. This type of competition between media houses has negatively influenced society as it threatens the democratic principles of the society. All media companies are seeking to resent to their audience only the most popular and prevalent content while disregarding the opinion of the minority or contents that do not bring in many viewers to their sites since the lesser the viewership, the lesser the advertising dollars.

As media houses compete for larger viewership, as a critic of the modern communication technology, the question remains, what of the viewers that view the information conveyed by these media corporations? Several pieces of research have been conducted, and they all seem to rotate around the same assumption. Be it the internet, smartphones, television, or any other contemporary communications technology, they all stimulate a lack of memory and cause us to pay less attention. For researches, the outcomes of technical advancements in media come off as a negative influence on modern society. Studies have recently discovered that with search engines such as Google, people are more focused on remembering the sources of information rather than remembering the information’s content. Studies have also shown that the human being is dependent on communication technologies, which has adversely affected the long term memory. It is unfortunate that technology is overtaking human capabilities, and the same technology acknowledges that itself and tries to offer solutions to humankind. For example, through technology, a software app known as ‘concentrate’ was invented. This software assists the user in concentrating and guide them on how they can avoid any forms of distractions.

One of the most prominent critics of the internet, Nicholas Carr, explained the internet makes us dumber, more stupid and less attentive. However, his studies have also been critiqued and been proved wrong by several researchers. An empirical report by American Life Project and Pew Internet showed that at least 76 percent of people think that the internet has made us more intelligent and wiser. Through the internet, people can search for a wide range of information, thereby enhancing human intelligence. More so, other defendants of the internet, Anderson, and Rainie (2010), explained that there is no way that google makes human beings stupid; it can only enlighten. Initially, television was thought that it would make people lazy, and writing would make people forget quickly. However, this has not really happened. Instead, the various communication technology has helped in further advancement in the general well-being of human life and made life a lot easier.

Contemporary communication technology has enabled human beings to change how they conduct themselves in day-to-day life positively. With advancements in technology, politics has been revolutionized worldwide, and politicians can now reach a larger audience. This has helped shape the general world politics through forums such as presidential debates that are aired on televisions. Mark Kingwell (2000) described the critics on communication technology as myths. He explained that the internet has always been blamed as the source of evil, while in a real sense, evil has always existed. According to Kingwell, the internet has helped shape society for the better, and he believed that the internet is what has brought awareness about the issue of evil, which has always existed. The internet has helped to connect people all around the world, allowing them to share ideas and thoughts. The largely sharing of massive information is what has led to the worry that such information overload will cause people to become forgetful.

We are living in a new informative era which is very different from the past. With new technological innovations, huge amounts of data are being transferred across different platforms worldwide. Communications technology has made it possible to manage such large data as well as process it in order to get things done. This has led to a transition from who has the information as it was in the past to who has the capability to read and interpret a text. This has allowed us to adapt to new ways. In the past, information was passed on from generation to generation through word of mouth, which required that special events ought to be remembered well so that they will be told later on. With the development of communications technology, such information is reloaded to the internet, where it can be accessed forever. Technology has helped in reducing the cognitive overload in human beings, allowing them to participate intellectually in other activities.

Contemporary communications technology has also helped in the way human beings process information. Individuals can now process more data as compared to how individuals processed data in the past. Communication technology has increased the capability to handle various information at once (Morgan, 2012). The ability to connect much information through the help of communication technology has helped in the discovery of more new ideas (Anderson & Rainie, 2010). Neil Postman critiqued the Frankfurt school of thought by claiming that since human life began, it has always been a mix up of both joys and miseries. He continued to argue that in any case, developments in technology only helped in improving life instead of destroying it.

Last but not least, communications technology has helped in breaking cultural barriers. Through storing of information on the internet, information can be easily accessed by anyone regardless of age, gender, or race as opposed to the past. In the past, certain information would only be given to a particular group, which was in turn expected to pass it on to the next group. Today, communications technology has challenged certain traditions and expanded on them so that they can offer diversity. The internet has come along so well in cutting across different cultural identities, which positively impacts and connects more people from all over the world and from different ethnic groups. The internet has also reduced gender imbalance and increased women’s empowerment as anyone can contribute through social media, unlike in the past where women were not supposed to speak when men were speaking, and in some communities, women were also not allowed to attend meetings.

In conclusion, it is not justifiable that contemporary communications technology has only had negative impacts on society. While there are many critics on this issue, it is clear that technology has brought in more positive outcomes than negative outcomes. The net results of communications technology can only be positive, not negative. While Thamus was a big critic of writing, today, we can experience the full benefits and positive impact of writing on society. Where could society be if Theuth’s idea of writing was rejected? How would it be like if communication technology was not innovated? We would definitely be in a worse position and in misery. Technology has made life more simple and easy. Generally, technology has not made human beings stupid or less attentive. Instead, technology has increased man’s intelligence and made him more creative and innovative. With any new introduction of communications technology, social norms will develop around them, and society will change as a result. Advancement in technology will always attract critics from anyone that is not ready for change. However, if society is prepared for change and ready to adapt, then the positive impacts of communications will be felt.