We’re Losing Our Minds

A few days ago I was listening to NPR and they were doing a segment on how technology affects memory. Unsurprisingly, our ability to access great amounts of information very quickly is making it less necessary for us to use straight memorization, and for the most part we seem to be losing the skill. Kids aren’t asked to memorize multiplication tables in school anymore, we don’t know people’s phone numbers, a bunch of small things that tend to worry a lot of us old folks who remember the days when we had to memorize these things.

However what researchers seem to be finding about the way our brains work with technology is that the lack of straight memorization frees up our brains to do higher order thinking. Instead of spending school memorizing, we spend school being taught how to think, how to make connections, how to find deeper understandings, how to analyze, synthesize and criticize.

Personally I think this is wonderful, although at the same time I wonder whether we’ll be able to use these higher level thinking skills if we don’t have the memorized knowledge at our fingertips. For example I know that I think best with a mixture of these types of brain function. I hear a new piece of information, I remember something that I already knew, I fill in other kinds of information that I already knew, and I use my higher order thinking to put it all together. This becomes far more difficult when you have to search for the pieces of information you want. So while I do understand that the need for memory is lessened, I think we should still teach our children how to memorize because it allows them more information available for their analysis.

So I’m curious- how do you see technology as affecting the way you think and remember? Do you like it? Do you think it’s overall beneficial or not?

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

1 Comment

  1. August 13, 2011 at 4:52 am —

    Learning higher math requires operationaliseing the simpler stuff, learning it by rote. This realisation has brought memorising multiplication tables back (if it was ever gone) in the schools I’m familiar with.
    Truly old fashion schooling had more memorisation than is necessary or desirable, and the memorisation that comes with working with a tool over and over again is easier and feels more meaningful than taking a list of whatever and attempting to learn it, but the latter is still a skill that comes in handy and needs to be taught.
    As you say, knowing more stuff by heart means more information available for analysis, and although we should teach kids to utilize the wealth of information available, they also need to learn that grabbing the first two links on google and writing about them isn’t useful to anyone.

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