Daily Devotionals

Tech and the Persistence of Memory

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Scripture: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-9

As I venture into middle age, I find myself struggling some days with remembering all that I am supposed to be doing. Between to-do’s for church and home and a constant stream of information through the internet and TV, I find myself all too often losing track of things that I should have instant recall about. Thank goodness for my smartphone, which lets me record reminders and dates instantly and will helpfully remind me about them later.

In the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), we’re told to “keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.” This statement of faith is so important, that believers are supposed to “recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise” and so forth. It’s something that’s supposed to be constantly in front of you, a central reminder of who God is and what a follower is supposed to adhere to…Something to continually remember to guide one’s whole day – an iPhone alarm chime shouldn’t be needed to help prompt this, it’s supposed to be on the mind and heart already.

As I read over how people of faith have remembered their religious tenets over the centuries, I wonder how well we fare with that now. With the infusion of technology in every moment of our day, we find the ways that we commit things to memory different than humanity has had for the whole of history. Could we still memorize the whole catechism, as John Calvin had the young confirmands in Geneva do? Would there still be any point in doing so when we can download that information right in the palm of our hands in the form of a mobile, always-connected computer?

A Scientific American article from 2013 ( http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-internet-has-become-the-external-hard-drive-for-our-memories/ ) posits “It may be that the Internet is taking the place not just of other people as external sources of memory but also of our own cognitive faculties. The Internet may not only eliminate the need for a partner with whom to share information—it may also undermine the impulse to ensure that some important, just learned facts get inscribed into our biological memory banks.”

While I am grateful for how technology is improving our lives and the ease of access to terabytes of data and other people online, I wrestle with how our “always on/always connected” ways are potentially crippling the methods that our brains utilize to hold on to and internalize ideas. Could we be eroding some of the ways that we process and grasp faith concepts too?

When I was doing a unit of clinical pastoral education in a hospital, I visited a patient who was approaching the end of life’s journey and who appeared unconscious as I approached him. After I softly spoke to him for a few minutes and got no reaction on his part, I decided to say Psalm 23 before I left the room. As I started the familiar words “the Lord is my Shepherd…”, the man’s eyes snapped open and he began to say the King James Version along with me. When we finished, he lapsed back into unconsciousness again. Something in the words though, had brought him back for those few minutes…It had stirred something within him that he had committed to mind and heart at some point in his life, and I’d like to think it reminded him that the God who had walked with him through life was there with him even then.

No matter what latest model of smartphone we hold or whatever wearable or embeddable technology is developed to give us any data recall that we need, I think there is still value in committing prayers, scriptures, and doctrines to memory as best we can and sharing that with one another in spiritual community. In that recalled knowledge, we know that we are known by the One who gives us faith.

Prayer: Lord grant us the discipline, focus, and time to read and meditate on your Word. Help us commit what we can to memory, so that it may strengthen our faith and give us the patience and will to help others learn it as well. Amen.

Submitted by Rev. Croskeys Royall