January 27, 2016 § 3 Comments
I was chatting to someone the other day when he offered to give me the number of a carpenter he knew. I whipped out my phone, expecting him to do the same, and instead he just rattled off the number. I barely had a chance to capture it.
And my first thought was: “I used to be able to do that!” And I did. My recall for phone numbers was phenomenal. I very seldom had to look up a number – I just picked up the phone and dialled.
I can’t even blame ageing, because I know exactly what the problem is – my mobile phone. Remembering phone numbers came much more easily when you had to punch them in repeatedly, or if you’re as old as me, you turned a rotary dial and heard that satisfying clack-clack-clack after each number. Muscle memory goes a long way – any musician will tell you that.
And what about map reading? Less than a decade ago, if you needed to go somewhere you looked it up on the map and plotted a route for yourself. Now you plug the address into Google Maps, pop your phone into a hidey-hole on the dashboard and mindlessly follow an automated voice prompt like a hypnotists’ puppet. There’s no looking out for landmarks or keeping an eye on where you are – you just do as you’re told.
I’m no neuroscientist, but I think it’s making our brains lazier and lazier. Everything is automated. We don’t have to think, strategise or plan, and so we don’t. And every study I’ve ever read on ageing and the brain indicates that if you want to keep your mind active, you need to keep it, erm, active. Just as your body will degenerate faster if you don’t stay fit, your mind needs regular and varied exercise to remain vital.
A number of years ago my parents moved into a newly built unit in a retirement village (I’m not allowed to call it the old age home). And I remember noting, for example, that none of the taps were actual taps – they could all be operated with a single finger. Everything was designed so that someone who was quite frail and weak could live in the unit with ease.
I get where that’s coming from – except that my parents weren’t frail and weak yet. And we all know that if you don’t use your muscles, you lose them. So by moving into that house where no effort is required, they were essentially setting themselves up to decline physically.
Of course I’m not suggesting that we make everything difficult, or halt the pace of progress, or give up our labour-saving machines. I’m partial to an automatic washing machine myself. But there’s a balance to be had somewhere between convenience and laziness.
There’s a lot about ageing that one can do nothing about, but there’s a lot you can do to stay healthy and vital – physically and mentally. The more we rely on devices to do our thinking for us, methinks, the less likely we are to go into old age with an incisive, sprightly mind.
And that would be a great pity.