Barry Schwartz Discusses How "Digital Diaries" Affect Learning and Memory on CNN.com

Susan Clarey

Barry Schwartz Discusses How "Digital Diaries" Affect Learning and Memory on CNN.com

by Michael Lott
11/4/2009

Barry Schwartz

Barry Schwartz

In an article on CNN.com, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues against excessive reliance on what CNN nicknames "digital diaries"—the outsourcing of our own memory to electronic documents and devices. Schwartz worries that relying too much on digital repositories of knowledge takes away from the learning process.

As an analogy, Schwartz gives the example of open book tests. He no longer gives such exams because he saw that students did not actually internalize the information. "It's possible that these devices that people now rely on will discourage anyone from doing this disciplined learning that we always used to do," he warns. Similarly, he argues that there is a risk of disengagement with the “here and now” because of overengagement with the recording process itself.

Some psychologists suggest that a digitized memories could help Alzheimer's patients recall important life events. However, Schwartz believes that such a solution would only be temporary—as Alzheimer's disease progresses, patients may no longer even recognize their lives as their own. Even a thoroughly kept digital diary might not be helpful at that point.

Schwartz, the Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action, explores the social and psychological effects of free-market economic institutions on moral, social, and civic concerns in his work. He is the author of The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life and The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.