Is the Internet Affecting Your Memory?

Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Re’eh September 3, 2016

Is the Internet Affecting Your Memory?

A Florida woman is fighting to keep her beloved pet alligator. Mary Thorn said her 15-year-old pet named Rambo ” … watches TV on top of my dogs. People get along with him, kids love him. Brand new babies have sat with him to do pictures.” The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is trying to seize her pet because he has grown past 6 feet long, the maximum size allowed for someone living on less than 2.5 acres. Ms. Thorn said Rambo, adopted after he was found being kept in cramped and dark conditions 11 years ago, is house trained, understands sign language commands and loves to dress in costumes, which she said also serve a practical purpose because the pet is sensitive to light. Ms. Thorn said she is asking the commission to make an exception for Rambo due to his unusual nature and because she obtained her license before the 2.5-acre provision was added onto the law.

Extolling Rambo’s praises, Ms. Thorn said, “He’s like my son. He’s my family. He’s not a normal gator. He has never been a normal gator.” Rambo spends most of his days indoors. He waits by the refrigerator for food; after meals Ms. Thorn keeps his teeth clean with a toothbrush and toothpaste. She even holds him like a baby and kisses his snout. Ms. Thorn insists she is not crazy for keeping a gator like a family member. “I get that all the time,” she said. “And then once they meet him his personality takes over.” Mary Thorn added that Rambo does not pose any danger to humans or animals since he is trained to keep his mouth shut around people.

The inability to keep one’s mouth shut around people is the source of many social ills. It has caused the dissolution of numerous friendships, the termination of countless marriages, and has generated immeasurable suffering. The antidote to loshon hara (evil speech)? In the words of King David, “Who is the man who desires life and loves days that he may see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit” (Psalm 34: 13-14) Study the laws pertaining to forbidden speech. These are collected into a single volume, written by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, generally known as the Chofetz Chaim. An excellent version in English is titled Guard Your Tongue, by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.

Parshas Re’eh — Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

Moses informs the Jewish people that we each face a choice; choose to observe G-d’s directions for living (i.e. the Torah) and receive blessings, or choose to ignore G-d and experience estrangement and its consequences. Moses then turns to describing a number of religious, civil and social laws relevant once the Jewish people enter the Promised Land. Included in this listing are:
• Don’t imitate the ways of the nations surrounding you
• A false prophet who attempts to entice you to idolatry should be put to death
• Since the Torah is complete and perfect, nothing may be added to or subtracted from it
• Self infliction of wounds on the body as a sign of mourning is prohibited
• As a holy people, refrain from eating non-kosher food
• Be particularly warm-hearted and charitable. Many laws and guidelines concerning tzedaka (righteous giving) are found in this week’s portion
• The three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavous and Sukkos) are opportunities to ascend (make aliyah) to Jerusalem and the Temple to celebrate our blessings

Rabbinic Ruminations

Is the Internet affecting your memory? The more times people look up facts online, the less they prefer to rely on their own memories for even the simplest questions. Functions that used to be accomplished solely in our heads are now accomplished with the help of technology. We no longer need to remember phone numbers, directions, birthdays, or medical information; the value of accumulating a vast knowledge base to ensure access to some specific bit of knowledge has never been less. The information we desire is often just a Google Search away, a development which has begun to profoundly alter the ways in which we think and remember. Psychologists have called this ‘cognitive offloading’. Professor Evan F. Risko, author of a new review of the research on cognitive offloading said: “If you’re allowed to store some to-be-remembered information on a computer, chances are you won’t devote cognitive real estate to remembering it. As a result, your ability to remember that information without the computer will likely be reduced. There’s little doubt that these new technologies are affecting what we remember.”

In a recent study designed to examine cognitive offloading, people were asked a series of challenging trivia questions. One group was allowed to Google it while the other had to rely on their memory. Later on both groups were given a series of easier questions to answer and both allowed to use Google if they preferred. The results showed that those who used the Internet before were more likely to use it again. Remarkably, 30% of people who used the Internet earlier failed to try and answer any of a series of relatively simple questions from memory. They preferred to Google it. Those who had relied on their memory before, though, were more likely to use their own memories again.

Ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus said, “Memory is the mother of all wisdom.” While acknowledging the importance of memory, Judaism defines wisdom differently. In Ethics of the Fathers (4:1) Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: ‘From all those who taught me I gained understanding’ (Psalms 119:99). At its simplest level, the message is that one who seeks wisdom wherever it may be found is the one most likely to acquire it. He or she is willing to ask anyone and everyone. He is not so conscious of his own reputation as to refuse to “lower” himself to seek knowledge from someone not as important or credentialed as he.

Quote of the Week

A lady once walked up to Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 Presidential race and said “Every intelligent American is going to vote for you, you know that?” And he responded: “That is why we are losing to Eisenhower. Because he gets all the others.”

Joke of the Week

The rabbi was having difficulty with his assigned parking space on the synagogue parking lot.

People parked in his spot whenever they pleased, even though there was a sign that clearly said, “This space reserved.” He thought the sign needed to be clearer, so he had a different sign made, which read, “Reserved for Rabbi Only.” Still people ignored it and parked in his space whenever they felt like it. “Maybe the sign should be more forceful,” he thought. So he devised a more intimidating one, which announced, “Thou shalt not park here.” That sign didn’t make any difference either. Finally, he hit upon the words that worked; in fact, nobody ever took his parking place again.

The sign read, “The one who parks here has to deliver the sermon next Shabbos morning!”

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