COLUMN: High Desert Sketches

Change is fast but forgetting is faster

More than 2,500 years ago, a Greek philosopher said that the only thing constant in life is change. Even earlier, when people were beginning to switch from the oral tradition to writing, many Greek philosophers began to lament what they considered the death of memory. They claimed that by writing something down people would lose their ability to remember the oral tradition and the tradition would be lost. By today’s standards, both schools of thought were correct, but to an extent they never dreamed of.

It took a thousand years for the invention of the radio to begin to affect newspapers. It took only a few decades after its invention for television to begin to erode radio and newspapers. The invention of the world wide web drove a stake through the heart of radio, television and the print media, and it seemed to have happened in a matter of minutes. The all-pervasive power of the internet was beyond conception only a few years ago, now it’s as accepted as breathing.

Unfortunately, the ancient Greeks were also right that as people became more reliant upon recording information, be it by handwriting or digital phenomenon, people’s memories would become slower and slower and slower. While the digital world blossomed with the speed of light, the forgetting of information has become even faster.

Remember the second Iraq war? Do you remember the statements like, “It’ll take us less than two weeks,” “We’ll be greeted as liberators,” and “It won’t be expensive”? These statements came from a secretary of defense, a vice president of the United States and a secretary of state. Do you remember who said what? I don’t either.

In a 2017 study published in The Hellenic Journal of Nuclear Medicine based in Greece, subjects were given ten words to remember and then were given a short test to prove they had mastered the words. The subjects were then told to use their cell phones for five minutes and the test was given again and the subjects had a substantial memory loss.

I can testify to the fact that as we get older we tend to forget small things and large things more often, but with the average teenager spending half his life on the phone, I wonder if the present generation will even remember their parent’s names by the time they reach the age to vote. The attention-gobbling smartphone has been the cause of many interesting accidents such as walking off the end of a pier, stepping into traffic and literally walking off cliffs.

Is it any wonder that former President Tweet’s followers can overlook statements like “COVID-19 is no different than other flu viruses,” or his recommendation that certain livestock drugs be administered to fight the COVID-19 virus? I’ve often wondered why this muddle-minded demagogue could contradict himself several times in the same short bleep. It all becomes clear now. Maybe the country can only be saved by going back to landlines.

Spanish philosopher George Santayana (1863 – 1952) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Considering the attention span of the present generation, I can assume that we will repeat the Civil War, and looking at the present legislation going through southern states, we may be on the verge now.

Albert Einstein once said, “Knowledge must continuously be renewed through ceaseless effort, if it is not to be lost.” As too many modern politicians only expend “ceaseless efforts” on demagoguery, we may forget how to read and write in only a few generations because we appear to have already given up on thinking.