Remember when you were a kid in school and every time you went to look something up your teacher would chide you? Maybe they told you that’s not how the world works; you won’t be able to just look something up whenever you want! Well, your teacher was wrong. And now more than ever.
We’re pretty good at retaining information on our own. But as soon as our ancestors developed ways to record information they embraced it and consequently expanded our ability to think. Recording information doesn’t only give you a way to store it, but also gives others the ability to access it. And we’ve gone from campfire stories to cave paintings to scrolls to books to tapes to digital storage.
This is the natural progression of a concept called transactive memory, a term that was coined in 1985 by social psychologist Daniel Wegner. Transactive memory posits that when you are part of a social group – as small as a household or as large as a culture – you take part in a think tank of sorts. As you talk to your family, friends, and colleagues you not only exchange ideas and information but also take note of who knows what.
Transactive memory is powerful because it encourages connection to others while maintaining independent memories and ideas. Even when you don’t remember the specifics of some information, you can recall who to talk to in order to retrieve it. Whether it’s in books or blogs, every record made by a person is an extension of their own mind and thus any interaction with it would count as transactive memory.
As our methods for storing information advance, transactive memory becomes greater in scope. Smartphones and other mobile devices represent a new step in transactive memory. They function the same way as a library (a common and established form of transactive memory), but aren’t limited by physical space beyond their pocket-sized profile.
You can experience the thoughts and ideas of others in the forms of podcasts and blogs from anywhere you have a network connection. And with the work of groups such as the non-profit Media Development Investment Fund working on making free global wifi a reality through projects like Outernet, you’ll soon never be in a place where you can’t access a network. For some that may sound like overkill. But to us, being able to summon a library out of thin air in the middle of an ocean or on the top of a mountain sounds incredible. The applications are even life-saving; people in countries with oppressive regimes would be able to visit the unrestricted web in safety.
The rapid expansion of the transactive memory network will continue as mobile web continues to be people’s primary form of internet use. At Wovax, we’re excited to be a part of countless transactions for ideas, memories, and information.