Is Our Memory Going Extinct, Too?

Does finding out something—again—years after it happened help or hurt us?

This meme about the Western Black Rhino being extinct is currently being passed around Facebook.

People are aghast and deriding humanity.


As they should be. If we don’t learn now, blundering around with our great big brains full of thought and purpose, when are we going to?

But here’s an interesting thing. Even though I saw this on a friend’s Wall today, the source it came from posted it in January.

A simple Google search found that this rhino has been extinct since 2011, with Probable Extinction designated in 2006.

So this isn’t new. It’s still just as important and devastating. But it isn’t a new thing to be shocked about. The shock should have reverberated and helped us become better people when it happened.

And it could very well have done that; even a small stride forward is better than none.

But what does this say about our memory, or our retention, or even our paying attention?

One of the things I applaud about social media is how it opens up the lines of communication. We get to hear different points of view from our own. We get to absorb knowledge at seemingly our own pace–I’ll get to that in a bit.

We also get to meet people we may never have had a chance of meeting, all through these various online mediums that keep the conversation going even if it’s between two screens.

But what are we missing?

Perhaps this flood of knowledge coming at us has little to do with allowing us our own pace and more to do with a giant brain-dump that our own brains can’t handle.

So we miss things. We forget things.

You’ve seen it before if you’ve spent any time on Facebook, the “Oh my god! This musician died!” type of posts, and you’ll get equally shocked comments until one person says that this happened in 2002.

Of course, there is always the fact that if this is the first time you’re seeing news of whatever it is, then it is indeed new to you.

And that even if information is being passed around again and back in our consciousness, perhaps that is for the greater good too. Perhaps this regurgitated news of this poor rhino species, this same outrage, this same sorrow, will help save another species from the same fate.

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