Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, June 20, 2011

On Memory, Books and The Internet

"Rouen Cathedreal, Morning Effect" - Claude Monet

This is a guest post promoted from the Forums (Background on Forum Promotion here)

By: Ted Cross

Think of the person you know who has the best memory. Can they quote from hundreds of books? Do they wow you with what can only be their photographic memory? It may be hard for modern people to fully comprehend, but the great memories of today can hardly compare to those of ancient times.

As the book I am reading now states (the following quote and all other quotes here are taken from The Discoverers by Daniel Boorsten) -- "Before the printed book, Memory ruled daily life..." Memory, both from individuals and communities, was the common means of passing knowledge on through the generations. People in those far off times had to intentionally cultivate an incredible memory in order to memorize amounts of information that would astound modern people.

"The elder Seneca (c. 55 B.C.-A.D. 37), a famous teacher of rhetoric, was said to be able to repeat long passages of speeches he had heard only once many years before. He would impress his students by asking each member of a class of two hundred to recite lines of poetry, and then he would recite all the lines they had quoted--in reverse order, from last to first."

Before the days of printing, "a highly developed Memory was needed by the entertainer, the poet, the singer, the physician, the lawyer, and the priest." We all know about the great ancient epics, such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, which were passed down orally for many centuries.

Even when the first writings became more common, Memory remained the primary means in use by lawyers and judges or anyone wishing to quote from the scrolls or manuscripts of the times. With no page numbers or other markings, it was too inconvenient to attempt to locate the necessary parts of text, often rolled up in scrolls dozens or even hundreds of feet long.

After the printing press was developed, books evolved into "an aid, and sometimes a substitute, for Memory." It was Socrates, two millennia earlier, who had first "lamented the effects of writing itself on Memory..." The more accurate and widespread the book became, the less important became the cultivation of a good memory.

The great anachronism of our age is Islam, which still sees as ideal for any Muslim child the full memorization of the Koran. A lesser one is the incredible use of memory of the elite chess grandmasters, who must memorize hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of positions, tactics, strategies, and lines of openings, middle games, and endgames.

The reason I decided to write this was because the (far more detailed) story from The Discoverers reminded me of some thoughts I had been having regarding the effects on memory of the internet age. If the rise of books had been a death knell for developing memory as a tool, how much worse is the internet, which in effect serves as a substitute memory for the world? Regardless of issues of accuracy, almost all data is now placed onto the internet. Google and similar search engines become the key to accessing this modern day Memory.

And what effect on memory will come of the decline of leisure reading? Reading, which long served to teach and broaden the minds of educated people, is clearly on the decline amongst (primarily) young males, at least when it comes to spending long hours and days poring over long books for leisure purposes. Now kids turn to email, blogs, text messages, and tweets as primary substitutes for the hours once spent reading. Are we going to reach a point where the average person feels they no longer need to have much 'data' stored within their minds, since they can access it at will on the internet? Will high quality writing and the desire to enjoy such writing decline as people become used to the shorthand of modern communications? When 'lol' and 'rofl' take over for actual knowledge of good English, what does it say of our future?

It is hard to say exactly how much impact the internet will have on the area of memory, but my belief is that the coming of the internet age will eventually have nearly as great an effect on memory as the invention of the printing press.






43 comments:

Patty Blount said...

I've seen a dramatic decline not in my memory per se, but in my attention span, since internet connectivity entered my life. And, since attention span is necessary for committing anything to memory, I see the two as inextricably linked.

Reading books for leisure requires my undivided attention. I must be able to immerse myself fully into the story or I can't enjoy it, let alone remember it later.

John Wiswell said...

I've noticed my patience suffering more than my memory. Internet usage seems to encourage overconsumption which may have a side-effect of enhancing the sense of trivia, and thereby reduce retention. But it has definitely exposed me to so much poor quality writing and wasted paragraphs that I've become a dedicated skimmer of anything on a screen; I had to fight to read every sentence of your article here, Nathan, due to little fault of your own. It's bled outward. I am now impatient in conversations, wanting to scroll through people's babbling to the point. It's made me no more intelligent or shrewd person, only one less attached to the experience of other people.

Nathan Bransford said...

Ha - John, I think you skimmed the part where I mentioned Ted Cross wrote the post.

M.J.B. said...

Interesting post! I believe our perception of and abilities to retain information will continue to evolve with technology. I think people today are retaining much more information than they used to, but in different ways. We're on information overload, whether it's made up of Tweets, books, news, Facebook status updates, magazine racks at the grocery store, important stuff, useless stuff, or everything in between. Living in a globalized world has contributed to this, because information is so readily available now, always. Tidbits of culture can now hop the globe in a matter of seconds and be absorbed by people who would otherwise never have been aware of them.

So, maybe time spent leisure reading is being replaced by other types of reading, but I'm fairly certain minds are being expanded because of it, not emptied. It may not be memorizing whole texts for recitation, but our need for that has passed. The way we use information has changed.

Unless we're all just playing Angry Birds in our spare time...Woops!

mct said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tiff said...

This topic has been on my mind for a while. Expanded though to our overall increased laziness, not just in learning, but in all things. I have concerns for "us" as a species. Methinks we'll go the way of the dinosaurs ;)

Anonymous said...

More than anything, while I'm not sure if the internet is affecting the depth of memory, I believe that it has expanded the breadth of mine. That's why I like to think that the net is also called the web: countless points connected by strings of memories, as in we are creating our rich communal memory.

Without the internet, I would probably never have gotten the opportunity to read your post, Ted. Thanks so much for sharing, I enjoyed it!

Dan Holloway said...

Hi Ted. I've encountered memory in many contexts. I used to compete at mind sports, so the idea of memory journeys is something I've been used to for a while. I started reading more around the history afetr reading Hannibal - starting with Frances Yates' marvellous The Art of Memory. Then my doctoral work on the 16th/17th centuries brought me into contact with the disputes between the imagistic memory palaces/journeys that were anathema to many Protestants with their fear of the visual imagination, and the more verbal/syntactical memorisation structures of Ramism, which subdivides everything down to its basic parts and operates much more like a regular computer would file things.

I think the internet may actually help us with memory rather than hinder - though obviously there is research needed. The process we go through in locating information online feels to me much more like the associative/sensory techniques that work so well in the creation of memory palaces, and mind maps, and a great way of bypassing the linearity which is a weakness both of old-fashioned computation and rote learning.

Richard Gibson said...

For me the internet has worked on my memory both ways. Yes, for a simple fact I'll look it up on Google (although - dare I say it - I sometimes actually use the World Almanac that sits by my desk, or even the dictionary; I must be a Luddite).

But I find my memory is stretched, in a good way, by the need or desire or both to find something that I know is either on my computer - a file (what keywords will locate it?), a photo (when did I shoot that, since most of my digital photos are stored chronologically as I don't have the patience to label them), or whatever - or out there in the cloud somewhere. What WAS that site where I saw some useful information, or lyrical writing, 8 months ago? Yes, I use the visitation history and repeat Google searches as a crutch, but I wouldn't even be doing that if my memory was so atrophied that I didn't at least have the fact of what I need to know in my head.

So I see it both ways, and I see both as positive.

Mira said...

Interesting, thoughtful article, Ted.

I'm not sure I agree with your conclusions, though. I think modern life is unbelievably complicated, to the point of overwhelm. We don't need to memorize inter-generational knowledge in the same way; we memorize different things. The amount of information we process on a daily basis is huge.

Freeing people from remembering less important things (like spelling, thank goodness for spell check) means they have brain space for other things, like creativity.

Also, the internet is one of the most powerful educational tools that exist. I have to be honest, I'm always abit confused when people think it's a bad thing. I believe it is probably one of the most pivital inventions within human existence. It will change the world in a profound way, since the internet fosters communication, community and dissemination of information on a global basis.

Interesting topic. Despite the fact that we disagree, I really appreciate the discussion!

Beverly Diehl said...

There's lots of different kinds of knowledge. Yes, Seneca could memorize and regurgitate quotations in a stunt fashion, and admittedly, that sound impressive, but could he dig a latrine or prepare a banquet for thirty guests preferably doing so in reverse order)?

We remember what we use on a regular basis, and for the things we do infrequently, we know where to go or who to ask for the information.

People have always had to filter out distractions - if hunting a deer, we would filter out other animal noises, wind in the trees, insects, etc. We simply have to filter differently, and store excess information a little differently, but there was never a time when everything was stored in memory for every single person.

Anonymous said...

There's a book all about this phenomenon called The Shallows (http://www.amazon.com/Shallows-What-Internet-Doing-Brains/dp/0393072223) if anyone is interested.

What I've wondered about lately is what will happen to all the ephemera and random stuff that makes up everyday life. What will be the 2000s equivalent of the random letter from someone's lover you find in a desk you get secondhand? Or the old photobooth photos from someone's long-gone summer vacation? The notes of a student from 20 years ago in the margins of a book?

I'm sure I read fewer physical books than I would if the internet existed, purely because the time spent online means time NOT spent reading a book, but I find it fairly easy to switch between modes. If I get offline and decide to read, say, an old issue of Rolling Stone from the 70s I found lying around, I don't find it hard to concentrate on it.

I use the internet for targeted research and message boards, though-- I don't really have a blogroll and I glance at news sites in much the same way that I glance at paper newspapers. I think what I've found is that online, I have very little patience for an article-- I decide by the end of the first sentence if I want to read it or not, but once I've decided "Yes, I will read this article," I don't find it hard to...read the article. Granted, it just might be that I can't tell that I have no attention span, since I'm 22 and essentially grew up with the internet.

-Salom

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

This is a great point, and it isn't only memory that is at risk in the modern age. Our ability to concentrate is vanishing in the onslaught of the internet age, and we all give into the temptation for instant information gratification. There have been a couple of disturbing studies released recently on the impact of multi-tasking on the ability to concentrate. There are also suggestions that using the brain in specific ways can slightly delay the onset of Alzheimers and dimentia, and that the way our brains engage on internet tasks tends to be contrary to those benefician activities. It's possible that reducing the need for and traditions of memorization and concentration could have serious health and economic consequences.

Thanks for bringing this up!

Martina

MarianaSmiles said...

Thank you for this informative piece, Nathan. I agree with M.J.B in that we are now using many different skills, and that our brains have adapted to the needs of our society. We now need to know a lot more about many different subjects and attend to a wide spectrum of tasks on a daily basis to be able to survive. As per reading full books, my son who is 20 and is a philosophy student was always an avid reader, because that is what we encouraged at home. He is also internet savvy and plays computer games with the best of them. So I agree that our ability to use our memory and retain larger amounts of text has been compromised for lack of exercise, and in favor of more pragmatic shorter bits in many more subjects. “Jacks of all trade” is what we have become.

Ted Cross said...

Wow, thanks Nathan for doing this!

Mira, I only suggested in my conclusion that the impact will eventually rival that of the printed word. I tried not to make judgements as to the good/bad of it. I see lots of good and bad in the internet, but regardless I feel it is inevitable. What would have been the point of arguing against books? It's no different with the internet. It's here, now how will we evolve because of it over the next few centuries?

An even greater impact, that I am studying in my WIP, is the future invention of a workable mind/data interface, that I truly believe will happen. IMO, that will blow everything else out of the water in what it does for/to us.

Tracy said...

This reminds me of Denzel Washington's movie The Book of Eli.

I think we rely too much on the internet for information. It's great having all that info at our finger tips but if something ever happened to it, we'd be lost.

I do find I have a harder time retaining information I've just read unless I'm really making an effort to memorize. Even then it's not as easy as it used to be maybe that's from being out of practice.

Joelle said...

Definitely a post that has me thinking of how I did things before the internet versus how I do things now. I still read a lot, always have and I always will. Love books. But I do use the internet to research more topics, I use to go to the library more than I do now. I don't feel that my memory has suffered from exposure to the net. I never took the time to memorize passages from books before anyway. I just never felt the need to memorize something unless I had to.

Mr. D said...

Ini the age of computers, memory is taking on a new meaning. Like how much instead of how good.

D.G. Hudson said...

Thanks, Ted, for the very interesting post. You've posed a great question for us to consider.

I agree the effects of our reliance on other sources rather than our own memory means we may lose even more of our mental abilities. Most won't notice it until it's too late. When I can't think of the name of an obscure book, actor, etc. I tend to search the web. It's a lazy reaction.

Yes, we can reduce a lot of info to 140 characters, but does that sort of info have staying power - I doubt it. Bits and bites can be unsatisfactory.

What did Joni Mitchell say? You don't notice it(the loss) til it's gone.

Mira said...

Ted - very true, good points! And the idea of a mind/data interface - wow. :)

Anonymous said...

"But it has definitely exposed me to so much poor quality writing and wasted paragraphs that I've become a dedicated skimmer of anything on a screen;"

I wish comments like this would always begin with "This is just my own humble opinion."

Humble being the operative word.

Ted Cross said...

Another clarification is that I have a tendency to view things in a long-term historical perspective rather than the typical short-term view. I dream about the impact of the internet over centuries rather than the next ten years. I love the internet and wouldn't want to live without it, but it's impact on society is so enormous that we cannot possibly forsee all that will come of it. If I am right, the mind/data interface will become the primary tool of change for humanity involving the internet.

CPatLarge said...

Love The Discoverers, and the rest of Boorstin's series (The Creators, The Seekers), and find that I, too, have lost my capacity to memorize. So much daily information overload, excacerbated by constant thirty-second sound bites, lead to fragmented retention, I'm sure.

It's so easy to say, it's on the Internet, I can find it if I need it, why bother remembering? To our detriment...

Matthew MacNish said...

Before I even read this I just want to say congrats, Ted! Ted's one of my best writer friends (who I met in your awesome forums, Nathan) and it's very cool to see him here.

But I have to ask, Nathan, who picked that picture for the post? If it was Ted he did a great job of mimicking your picture selection "voice." It looks just like something you'd select!

Ted Cross said...

Hey, Matt! Nathan picked the picture, because I didn't know he was going to promote me from the forums. It's a nice going away present for me, since this is my last day in Azerbaijan.

The English Teacher said...

People used to say the same thing about TV when I was a kid. :)
Look, we teachers think about this all the time. Kids need internet experience with research and use, but they don't really need the hours and hours of internet games, facebook, and texting their friends. We do everything we can to try to convince them that they need physical activity and reading in their lives as well. Yes, it's well-documented that kids' attention spans can be permanently affected by their not having to concentrate on longer things for longer periods of time (such as reading a novel vs. reading a bunch of text messages or such as watching a dramatic film vs. taking in the super-fast changes in music videos).
But, people can still learn to memorize things. Even the ancient Greeks had various methods for remembering their speeches. (Do you know the one about "walking through a house"?) I've found that different kids respond well to different things when they must memorize something.
I also find it ironic that you are bemoaning the loss of the ancient Greek method of memorizing by listening and repeating, when school teachers often bemoan the fact that kids do better when they listen than when they just read. :)
Both are useful abilities, of course.
My personal opinion is that there have always been those who had an excuse not to use their intelligence: poverty, lack of time, lack of opportunity, TV, internet, bringing in the harvest, etc. But there have always been those who got around the plentiful excuses and did amazing things with their mental abilities anyway: Lincoln, Shakespeare, Robert Burns -- and I could go on and on. My point is that some folks will use the internet as an excuse not to develop their minds, and some will use it as a tool to develop their minds even further than they possibly could have without it. It's the attitude of the user that makes the difference.
(You can lead a horse to water, but some horses will drown before they'll take a sip from the fountain of knowledge. I know; I teach junior high. :) )

Matthew MacNish said...

Ah, well I guess that figures. No wonder it looked like a very Nathany picture.

And I do think it's an interesting question overall. Access to information is obviously going to change the way we think, learn, and communicate. I hope those changes will be a kind of evolution for the good, but it's obviously impossible to know for sure.

Ted Cross said...

"I also find it ironic that you are bemoaning the loss of the ancient Greek method of memorizing by listening and repeating..."

Please note that I wasn't bemoaning this, only commenting on it after reading about it. It struck me as I was reading that I had been considering similar ideas about the long-term effects of the internet, so I did a blog post more to ask questions about it and think about it than to bemoan anything.

Kristin Laughtin said...

The ancient orators had amazing memory skills, and most common people had far better memories than we do today. It was more necessary back then. I did a bit of research on it in college (in connection to researching changes in certain manuscripts over time), and it's a fascinating subject.

However, I don't think the Internet bears sole responsibility for our waning memory skills, as it's just another medium for conveying text visually instead of orally, and a number of cultural factors have contributed to our tendency to boil everything down to tidbits and factoids for quick and easy consumption. Even our education system is designed to have kids pass tests and then shuffle them through to the next grade, with little regard for whether they've really learned something deeply, let alone memorized any decent amount of information about it. (This is NOT the fault of teachers, either; it's a fault of the system. Don't get me wrong!) Everybody tries to cram more things into their time, instead of focusing on a few things to nurture. And there are plenty of other gadgets that contribute. I'll confess to not knowing half my friends' phone numbers. Simple ten digit numbers, and I don't bother to memorize them because my cell phone takes care of it for me.

So yes, while I'll lament the deterioration of memory skills, I don't think we can blame it solely on the Internet or a lack of leisure reading. These things are in themselves symptoms of general cultural attitudes that have been building for decades.

Anonymous said...

Claims like this always seem dubious to me. Given the ever increasing rate of technological innovation, the dramatic increases in longevity, the rise of literacy, and general rise in measurable intelligence (the Flynn effect), it seems rather silly to say that our faculties are somehow diminished when compared to our forebears.

Sure, we can cite specific ancient examples Seneca, Socrates, DaVinci, etc.... But these are a handful of examples scattered over thousands of years. A Google search on "amazing memory" turns up a number of living examples, including the actress Marilu Henner.

When we do these kinds of comparisons (especially when we rely on anecdotal evidence) we seem to forget that the vast, vast majority of our ancestors were completely illiterate. There are more lawyers, poets, entertainers, priests, philosophers, scientists and physicians right now in California than were in all of the Ancient world.

Robena Grant said...

Did anyone catch the repeat of Sixty Minutes last night? (Original was December 2010.) It was about superior autobiographical memory. These people (now 20+) are being studied. They have recall from every day of their lives. Can spit back random information from any given date. They say they just see it. See it all. Wow! My head is so full of words now I wouldn't want that much memory. Ha ha.
But good post.
My thoughts are that we will absorb more information, be forced or intrigued to research more on a topic, and therefore increase our memory.

Cheryel Hutton said...

I had something brilliant to say, but I forget what it was.

What was my name again?

chelsea said...

My memory became suckier at the advent of the cell phone. Back in the day, I could store hundreds of telephone numbers in my mind. Now, I can barely remember my own cell number. I also picked up a phone book when I was on vacation a few weeks ago, and realized that I had no clue how to find anything I was looking for, because it wasn't a Google powered phone book. I am a total victim of technology, and my memory has definitely been affected. I guess I'm out of practice, because remembering certain things isn't necessary anymore. @ John Wiswell - I laughed at you wanting to scroll through people's babbling and get to the point. I don't think you're alone in that, I see a lot more impatience out in the world than I once did.

Ted- great post. Nathan, thanks for posting. :)

Mira said...

"I dream about the impact of the internet over centuries rather than the next ten years".

Me too! Although I tend to look at it from a cultural perspective, and I think you look at it more from a scientific standpoint.

I love debate, and I love that your post is stirring up some, Ted! Yay for debate and interesting, complicated topics! :)

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

It's a legitimate fear and echos the older SciFi writers prophesies of what the computer will do to our civilization. dsh

Dave said...

I concur with your concerns completely regarding the decay of our language as a result of modern communication methods. As far as print and online media decreasing our memory, I'm not certain. I think the other end of the perspective is that we're using our capabilities to develop these technologies to increase our memories beyond what they would naturally be capable. Instead of developing memories of facts, we're developing memories of reference; that is, we remember where we can access the facts we need.

Neil Larkins said...

Back in 1963 (Yes, that long ago!), my first year in college, speed reading was the big thing. Part of English 101 was speed reading. It was emphasized that retention was vitally important and unless your memory of what you read exceeded a certain percentage, you weren't reading, only skimming words. Yet as much as this was hailed as a great advancement in education, not everyone agreed. It was widely held my many educators that speed reading was the beginning of the end of quality learning being replaced with quantity of little value. It seems this Internet thing has similar aspects.

hillary said...

Was it Einstein who said that he never remembered anything he could look up?

I bet teenage boys today read more words than ever. The internet, while full of pictures, is still primarily a text-based medium, akin to a magazine. In fact, I think that's what most teenage boys were reading before the internet, not so much great works of fiction. It was Hot Rod, or Mad, or Playboy, or Sports Illustrated, or the Boy Scout Handbook, or Thrasher, or How to Tie Knots. Now they go online for that stuff, but they aren't subbing blogs for literature. It's not like the boys who would read Ulysses aren't reading it now in favor of Facebook. Now they're reading it and going online to talk about it with other people who have read it, or to look up analysis of a difficult passage, or to learn more about Dublin in 1904. The internet is a tool for communication and connection, which is what teenagers SHOULD be doing.

Whirlochre said...

Sorry — this confuses the act of remembering with the nature of what is remembered.

Books and the internet will not and cannot diminish our faculty to remember in the way suggested.

J.C. Martin said...

You neglect to mention what I feel is one of the major instigators in memory decline: mobile phones. Gone are the days when you can recite someone's number off by heart. The number of people who can't even remember their OWN number is chocking!

I had this experience at work the other day:

Teenager: I need to call my mom. I left my phone in her car.

Me: Go ahead, you can use our phone.

Teenager:...

Me: What's wrong now?

Teenager: I don't know her number. It's saved on my phone, though.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

I agree with Mira (as is often the case), Ted.

It was a great, thought-provoking piece and thank you for taking the time to consider it and write it.

But in essence, you missed an important part of what memory actually is--an individual's ability to recall, not just texts, which we equate with knowledge, but also visual, tactile and other sensual memory.

A key for writing, writers, and memory has always been finding symbols, which after all is really what language consists of, that are familiar to the same almost throughout humanity.

Dark clouds rarely indicate something good is about to happen, unless the person reading about it is struggling through a drought. Just the word "city" conjures up as well as a sense of excitement, a sense of confusion and overwhelming assault on the senses for those living in a place where the term has never applied.

Many traditions stress memorization--not just Islam. And they also stress story sharing, particularly from "elder" members to younger ones. But this "story sharing" is the same, essentially, as your father telling you the difference between a philips head and a flat head screw driver, and the easy phrase: "righty, tighty, lefty, loosey."

However, I agree many are too dependent on technology to remember, and make recall easier, for everything. It is great that the internet has become a resource and repository of most of human knowledge, and a place where knowledge can be shared world wide at close to the touch of a button.

But what happens when the power goes out?

I think parents teach their children to remember things by sharing with them their own memories--whether it be reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at 9 on a farm in dim light, or seeing grandpa curled up with a good book instead of watching Roy Rogers.

A parents goal is to teach their children to live without them. Not need them to remind them to put their shoes on before going out in the snow...

Reading isn't diminishing. It's just taking on a different form. Humanity has always had three options to change as a species: Adapt, Mutate, or die.

I have and always will opt for adapting, as long as possible. Rather than lamenting something that isn't likely to come back.

Sean said...

Let me add Freemasons to the list of those who rely on memory.

In a Masonic lodge, officers present material to candidates entirely from memory. In many areas, there is no written reference: they are passed on orally. In others, what is printed is in "cipher" only, and offers little more than an aid to memory.

My first significant experience with this was when I needed to learn a lecture of about 15 minutes. Getting the first paragraph word-perfect took about two days of near-constant effort and the aid of a cipher.

The second paragraph took about a day. After that, they fell faster and faster. I was able to memorize the lecture in roughly three weeks, and read it back (with meaning and inflection, not just by rote) word perfect.

We're not talking easy language, either, unless words like vicissitude, chapiters and superfice are part of your daily vocabulary!

What I'm most surprised by is my ability to pull the entire thing out of mid-air, if you will. Without having practiced or thought about it for weeks, I can rattle it off almost automatically, even amid distractions.

The second lecture I worked on went faster. I was able to memorize a 30-minute speech in about a week, working on it just two hours a day.

All this sparked my interest in the art of memory, and I realized that I make extensive use of mnemonics, visualization, and so-called memory houses or palaces to store information.

I've noticed that I now have an increased ability to memorize finer details in my work and personal life. I have a better attention span and more patience.

I see Masons in their 80's and 90's who and exhibit little, if any, indication of the memory problems common among their contemporaries.

I don't buy into the idea that the brain is a bucket of limited capacity, nor that any of us is using theirs to its fullest. I also don't accept the notion that we should be using computers as a crutch to skip over the "unimportant" details like spelling, or that they shouldn't be emphasized as strongly in school. I personally see that as an excuse for being lazy.

I wouldn't want my surgeon to Google "how to remove appendix" while I was open on his table, nor would I accept his claim that, "I didn't learn basic anatomy because it's trivial stuff I can always look up if I need to."

Athletes don't just jump into a sport. It requires training, and even the best professional athletes return from the off season by retraining their bodies in the fundamentals. As technology advances, we see improved sporting accomplishments, but better equipment doesn't negate the need for athletes to train just as hard.

In that way, I think that a well-trained memory is the six-pack-abs of our profession. Books, TV and the Internet have become tools that improve our ability to access information, but they shouldn't be a substitute for a strong mind.

Anne R. Allen said...

It's interesting that most people think that when you're pointing out change, you're condemning it. We need to acknowledge change in order to process it, and I think Ted has done a great job of that here. As he says, the Internet's "impact on society is so enormous that we cannot possibly forsee all that will come of it."

Look what it's done to the publishing industry alone. Nobody knows where this current upheaval will leave us.

I'm old enough that I know what a fleeting gift memory is. Memorizing may become, like running, a hobby rather than a necessity. We no longer have to run from hungry bears, but our bodies still crave the exercise as if we did.

A timely and thoughtful piece.

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