I read something yesterday that made me feel so good about myself and the challenges I face with memory and technology. Currently, one of the bestselling books on amazon.com is Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. With just that much information about the book I read on to find out what this book was possible about. You certainly couldn’t tell by the title. The book happens to be about the authors experience as a participant in the U. S. Memory championships. Now that caught my interest. Since I can’t remember what I walked downstairs to get out of the freezer, I was fascinated that people exist who can even sign up to participate in memory championships. I can only dream about what it would be like to always remember where your cell phone is, always remember where your car keys are, always remember where you parked your car and always remember what you want to take out of the freezer. But, to my surprise, this sort of remembering isn’t what the U. S. Memory Championship is about. This unique contest is about who can remember the most names of strangers, the most lines of poetry and the most number of random digits. For example, one guy could memorize 1,528 digits in an hour. Impressive to say the least. On the other hand, pretty stupid. For what reason would anyone want to memorize 1, 528 numbers. Maybe they work for the government and it is their job to keep track of the national debt. Anyway, it turns out that this particular memory completion and the book are more about the “art of memory.” The “art of memory” is a set of techniques invented by the ancient Greeks. (Weren’t they also the ones who invented orgies? Seems like these Greeks were all over the brain stimulation theories) Anyway, the author of this book, Joshua Foer, ended up winning the U. S Memory Championship. But when asked how his memory is now he answered that the techniques are good for remembering structured information like shopping lists but [and I quote] “Unfortunately I still misplace my car keys.” I was ecstatic when I read this. If the winner of a national memory championship still loses his car keys, I am so off the hook. These 7 wonderful words of truth were like music to my ears. I now believe there is hope for me! However, besides this amazing revelation and another very important point came up. An interviewer asked the author this very relevant question:
“Q: How do you think technology has affected how and what we remember?”
Here is Joshua Foer’s insightful answer in its entirety.
A: (Joshua Foer) “Once upon a time people invested in their memories, they cultivated them. They studiously furnished their minds. They remembered. Today of course we’ve got books, and computers and smart phones to hold our memories for us. We’ve outsourced our memories to external devices. The result is that we no longer trust our memories. We see every small forgotten thing as evidence that they’re (our memory) failing us altogether. We’ve forgotten how to remember.”
I find this answer to be so profound. If you think about it, is this not the crux of all the problems in our educational system. Why does the United States keep losing rank in the educational status of the world countries? Why do test scores across America continue to fall? The answer is in Joshua’s answer. Students outsource everything to their external devises. Certainly when they need to retrieve the information they have to problems with completing that particular task. They can easily push all the right buttons in the exact right order. We have all seen these techno-savvy students pushing buttons like there is no tomorrow. But training your brain to remember a sequence of buttons to push isn’t using the full potential of your brain to remember important knowledge. More importantly, if you can remember the knowledge then you can’t get to the next thinking level and use the knowledge to be a creative thinker. Memorization is not the only aspect to learning. Real learning takes place when we can make knowledge not only memorable put also usable. [ BTW, are you surrounded by bubbles right now? I guess I hopped up on my soapbox and things got pretty intense. Hold on for a minute while I pop those that landed on the monitor. I can’t see what I am typing any more.]
Seriously, you only have to watch the news for about five minutes and you realize that we need a lot more people running our country with some higher level thinking skills. We need people who can remember and use knowledge to solve the many problems our county is facing today. I think we have enough people that can Twitter and Tweet. [and what a bunch of bird brains they are]
I guess this week’s post ended up being more serious then funny. That is because I gave up laughter for Lent. JUST KIDDING! I am not a very good Lenten Catholic. Every year I come up with an excuse NOT to give something up. This year I feel my life has been miserable since winter set in 5 months ago. So why would I want to make these next six weeks extra miserable. If I give up anything it is going to be shoveling snow.