Metatalk post in 6 months: Where's that post about how we forget stuff we know is available online somewhere?
July 14, 2011 2:13 PM   Subscribe

A lot of things make us dumb but for seriously this time you guys, the availability of information on the internet is making us not bother to remember information. We aren't even that great at remembering where the information is that we didn't bother to remember. Instead we just remember that it can be found someplace or other.

Article referenced in the ars technica piece (paywall): Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips.
posted by cashman (82 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The authors pose one simple example that had me immediately agreeing with their conclusions. Test yourself: how many countries have flags with only one color? Regardless of your answer, was your first thought about actual flags, or was it to consider where you would find that information? Without realizing it (even though I knew the content of the paper), I found myself mentally planning on opening up my Web browser and heading for a search engine."

Uhh, I was thinking of flags?
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 2:18 PM on July 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


True story: I use Google almost every time I need to find the Metafilter Wiki, because it has a non intuitive URL.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:19 PM on July 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was thinking "is there one other than Libya?"
posted by kmz at 2:19 PM on July 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm not convinced that this is a bad thing.
posted by yeolcoatl at 2:19 PM on July 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


I can just confirm that I see this happening with me. Am not proud.
posted by everichon at 2:20 PM on July 14, 2011


We invented writing so we wouldn't have to keep everything in our heads. The current trend has been going on for 5000 years or so.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:20 PM on July 14, 2011 [48 favorites]


I also no longer use a buggy whip or slide rule. I have forgotten how to iron clothes and hunt buffalo. So what do you suggest?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:21 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not going to read the links; knowing they're there and I can read them later is enough.
posted by finite at 2:22 PM on July 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


I have forgotten how to iron clothes and hunt buffalo.

You forgot how to iron clothes? What invention made that obsolete? Or are you saying you used to iron and hunt at the same time?
posted by The World Famous at 2:25 PM on July 14, 2011


I dunno. I remember lots of stuff -- detailed stuff, lists, all sorts of things. I don't bother to memorize what national flags look like because I can find out. Why the heck would I want to memorize flags? That's a parlor trick, and not a very interesting one.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:25 PM on July 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


When it comes to knowing how to look stuff up, I always think of Feynman and the map of the cat. He is describing the semester (or year, maybe) that he spent working in Biology:



...I began to read the paper. It kept talking about extensors and flexors, the gastrocnemius muscle, and so on. This and that muscle were named, but I hadn't the foggiest idea of where they were located in relation to the nerves or to the cat. So I went to the librarian in the biology section and asked her if she could find me a map of the cat.

"A map of the cat, sir?" she asked, horrified. "You mean a zoological chart!" From then on there were rumors about some dumb biology graduate student who was looking for a "map of the cat."

When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles.

The other students in the class interrupt me: "We know all that!"

"Oh," I say, "you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you've had four years of biology." They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes.

posted by milestogo at 2:26 PM on July 14, 2011 [23 favorites]


I also no longer use a buggy whip or slide rule. I have forgotten how to iron clothes and hunt buffalo. So what do you suggest?

I suggest you aren't going to do well during and after the zombie apocalypse. Or at least you'll have wrinkly clothes after the zombie apocalypse.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:29 PM on July 14, 2011


You forgot how to iron clothes?

Here you go!
posted by Hoopo at 2:29 PM on July 14, 2011


I think it is an issue because of the nature of a lot of new reading practices; my students tend to read material online or in pdf form; the problem is that they don't often remember exact information or phrases to search for in these texts and without that it's hard to search. So generally they over rely on the starts and ends of documents, which don't always have the material they need. It's like the issue with the book scroll but without the memorization abilities that were fairly common in cultures that used scrolls.

We invented writing so we wouldn't have to keep everything in our heads. The current trend has been going on for 5000 years or so.

From what I know of reading practices, I don't believe that's necessarily true. A lot of writing went on hugely oral cultures and until the book codex came along it was a bugger to find anything in the centre of a scroll, especially as there were no or few indexes. I know the Romans and Greeks stressed memorization enormously. Not sure about other cultures, though.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:31 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is getting as old as the "Our young men are refusing to grow up!" meme. Though I suppose it could be explanatory: maybe our young men won't grow up because they can just look up how to do grown-up things on the internet.
posted by treepour at 2:33 PM on July 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


I invariably staff out remembering birthdays and blood type and the names of my boss's kids to my girlfriend. It's efficient - the cost of listening to her complain about how useless I am is less than the cost of remembering.

The internet allows me to extend that efficiency to almost everything, and it's less likely to give me a look of I-don't-know-what-you'd-call-that-I-guess-pity-and-a-sort-of-what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-you-look when I make a bad joke. In fact, on the internet, bad jokes become memes.

The strength of humans as a species isn't so much our intelligence and fine motor skills, it's our ability to delegate.
posted by doublehappy at 2:35 PM on July 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


I suggest you aren't going to do well during and after the zombie apocalypse. Or at least you'll have wrinkly clothes after the zombie apocalypse.

You're going to look pretty funny sitting on your zombie-drawn buggy going nowhere in wrinkly clothes.
posted by Hoopo at 2:35 PM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have to admit that I still feel a little funny that I don't know my own mother's phone number (it's stored in my cell phone), but yeah, slide rule.
posted by Melismata at 2:37 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I saw this funny comment about sitting on a zombie-drawn buggy in wrinkly clothes but I can't remember where it was.
posted by perhapses at 2:38 PM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


For my Gen Chem class I googled things A LOT for help and checking answers. Among the results were people posting the exact problems directly from the same textbook and people solving them. It's only a matter of time before every academic exercise is googleble.
posted by tremspeed at 2:39 PM on July 14, 2011


It's only a matter of time before every academic exercise is googleble.

How will we know the googled answers are correct?
posted by The World Famous at 2:41 PM on July 14, 2011


Didn't The World Almanac usually have a section in it with national flags and the flags of U.S. states? Keeping that information somewhere other than your head is not new.

I wonder if there was a discussion like this happening eight thousand years ago about how this newfangled "writing system" thing was destroying everyone's ability to remember on their own.
posted by XMLicious at 2:45 PM on July 14, 2011


How will we know the googled answers are correct?

The same way scientists know if new information is correct. Logic and reasoning and checking how it fits with what we already know.
posted by yeolcoatl at 2:45 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Regardless of your answer, was your first thought about actual flags, or was it to consider where you would find that information?

That's a good question. Give me a minute while I look up the answer.
posted by quin at 2:46 PM on July 14, 2011


I vaguely recall something from antiquarian history, in which it was suggested that writing history and philosophy down would lead to intellectual laziness, and undercut a vibrant tradition of oral history and debate.

...but I can't find the exact context or quote online, my searches didn't turn much up.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:47 PM on July 14, 2011


Some of us actually still know stuff. Because we're answering the dumb queries you all type into Google all day.
posted by GuyZero at 2:48 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]




Some of us actually still know stuff. Because we're answering the dumb queries you all type into Google all day.


You're the guy in the computer that answers all my questions!??! I've always wanted to thank you!
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:49 PM on July 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


Test yourself: how many countries have flags with only one color?
Um, er, 1.
A more interesting (though impossible to recall without setting sail) would be "How many flags have only one STAR?"
Answer: 28
posted by obscurator at 2:51 PM on July 14, 2011


...but I can't find the exact context or quote online, my searches didn't turn much up.

I think you'll find that the Green has all the answers you'll ever need.
posted by quin at 2:53 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess you just have to know where to look.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:55 PM on July 14, 2011


I don't even bother to bookmark things any more and entirely rely on the quick search bar in Chrome.

I was useless at work for half a day when i cleared my cache to fix something and lost all my cached links to intranet pages.

As for the flag question, I know Libya off the top of my head, but I can't think of any more.
posted by empath at 3:01 PM on July 14, 2011


If I remember correctly (and no, I'm not bothering to look this up) one of the top searches on Yahoo was for Google, and similarly vice versa.
posted by kmz at 3:01 PM on July 14, 2011


I guess you just have to know where to look.

And how to look. I am a bit surprised by how crap some people are at googling for information. And can't tell that maybe you should look for certain information on google scholar instead of regular google and so on...

I wish there were mandatory college classes in how to search the internet and what internet information is reliable and what is written by Nutter McNutter of the Crazy Grudge Clan.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:05 PM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Everything is wolframable.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:05 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The same way scientists know if new information is correct. Logic and reasoning and checking how it fits with what we already know.

So, we google it, then run a double-blind, peer-reviewed study on it just to make sure our google results are correct? Sounds time-consuming.
posted by The World Famous at 3:07 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can't possibly argue memorizing minutiae is more valuable than knowing where to find it? To put it another way, give me the person who has a high-level understanding of how something works and where to find details as they need them, rather than someone who has the details memorized but cannot see the forest for the trees.

I know there exist people who can do both, but I'm not one of them.
posted by maxwelton at 3:08 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know much about flags, I admit. But I can describe a Xantos Gambit, a Face Heel Turn and a Load-Bearing Boss, precisely and only because of the resources available on the Internet.

We remember stuff that is interesting or useful to us. Everything else we can look up when we need or want it.
posted by SPrintF at 3:15 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everything is wolframable.

You're right!
posted by doublehappy at 3:18 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


But Google is really good at finding stuff.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:24 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The same way scientists know if new information is correct. Logic and reasoning and checking how it fits with what we already know.

As a matter of fact, I often google answers to chemistry questions that I don't remember (though I learned them once). The thing is, though, I have a deep enough understanding of the field to be able to tell if the answer is in general accordance with what I remember and how I understand chemistry, overall.

So, if I get some bogus Ask.com answer that purports to give me info but smells like BS, I can screen that out. But when I read an aswer that either fully explains or hits on the key elements of the answer, I can recognize it when I see it.

Feynman, whom I nearly idolize, is being a little silly in the above quote. The years the other students studied biology presumably gave them a deeper insight into the field than Feynman would be able to gain in his 15 minutes of skimming. Not to say Feynman couldn't bring something to that particular discussion, but c'mon.
posted by darkstar at 3:27 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


In conversations on this subject, I always refer back to this bit of Einstein apocryphal, which I learned as a pre-teen in the 1970s:

ONE OF Einstein's colleagues asked him for his telephone number one day. Einstein reached for a telephone directory and looked it up. "You don't remember your own number?" the man asked, startled.
"No," Einstein answered. "Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?"
posted by Mike Mongo at 3:31 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Before the internet (or mass literacy even) people were simply more ignorant, not more capable of memorizing. Most of the population accepted that not knowing stuff was the normal state of affairs. Only those who really needed certain information had no other choice but to commit it to memory, but it had a high time cost to achieve that level of recall. The strategy of remembering where information can be found is much better than trying to remember the information itself.
posted by Jehan at 3:31 PM on July 14, 2011


If I remember correctly (and no, I'm not bothering to look this up) one of the top searches on Yahoo was for Google, and similarly vice versa.

I have a Coworker who does this. He opens his browser, which opens to Google, and types in yahoo then clicks the link to go there. He does this with all things though. It's that whole the search box is easier than the address bar thing.
posted by M Edward at 3:33 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have no idea how this Feynman scanned his cat anatomy, or why.
posted by benzenedream at 3:34 PM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wish I could remember the name of place I used to use to look stuff up. Something to do with glasses or goggles or something
posted by Elmore at 3:39 PM on July 14, 2011


You forgot how to iron clothes? What invention made that obsolete?

Permanent-press clothing.

I didn't even have to google that!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:41 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a Coworker who does this. He opens his browser, which opens to Google, and types in yahoo then clicks the link to go there. He does this with all things though. It's that whole the search box is easier than the address bar thing.

This is a reasonably efficient strategy. The near edges of a screen (where the address bar is) are more difficult to access than the search box which is usually in focus by default. It means you don't need to remember the appropriate top level domain (.com, .net, .org, whatever), and it also treats typos sympathetically (at my work, on internet explorer, a mistyped web address freezes everything for 4 or 5 seconds, but even without that specific problem, using google avoids ever seeing a 404 from a mistyped address). Google also offers links to subsites for major websites, which can save a few clicks in the long run.
posted by doublehappy at 3:43 PM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Permanent-press clothing.

I've got bad news for you.
posted by The World Famous at 3:47 PM on July 14, 2011


Permanent-press clothing.

I've got bad news for you.


They are made of bison? Slide rules? Buggy whips?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:58 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes. This is the basis of my handle and why I only use it online, not in real life. I'm only an eideteker when I have an Internet connection.
posted by Eideteker at 3:58 PM on July 14, 2011


For my Gen Chem class I googled things A LOT for help and checking answers. Among the results were people posting the exact problems directly from the same textbook and people solving them.

Well, shit. You've learnt how to google about chemistry. That was for sure money well spent....
posted by c13 at 3:58 PM on July 14, 2011


I went to a karate class once, were they were doing all those complicated ninja moves. But I figured I can always look that stuff up on youtube, so why bother.
posted by c13 at 4:01 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I knew it was one flag that had one color, and I thought it was Libya but didn't remember exactly. So, yeah, I googled it.

I've always told my kids they don't need to know the answer as long as they know how to find the answer, anyway. I don't see us reaching Asimovian levels of ignorance any time soon.
posted by misha at 4:03 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


And since the invention of language, humanity has been a multiplexed intelligence. We're just freeing up more and more brainpower for computing, rather than memorization. Yes, it's important to have SOME info in RAM/on the local disk, and yes we need to keep backups. But you can't convince me this is a bad thing. It's just another thing, and it's up to us how bad or good we make it.
posted by Eideteker at 4:06 PM on July 14, 2011


Nicholas Carr blogged about the study today. He quoted Emerson:
As gravity holds matter from flying off into space, so memory gives stability to knowledge; it is the cohesion which keeps things from falling into a lump, or flowing in waves.
After reading this, my mind went to the debate about cutting philosophy departments in universities. This kind of knowledge has no market value, and the logic of the market has so thoroughly colonized our beliefs that we can only conclude that it's useless. When the intellect is only a means for earning a paycheck, it makes sense to outsource as many of its functions as possible.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:08 PM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Speaking of language, the other big issue with people not emphasizing memory is learning/teaching languages. Ever tried to teach a language to a class of people who don't believe in memorization? Or from an educaiton where memorization is considered an insignigicant skill. It's painful and really, really unproductive.

(I'm not into ramming useless facts down people's throats and making them memorizing them, but there are certain areas where memorization is necessary. Unless you want to have a conversation where you're pausing to look up every second word.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:09 PM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Or from an educaiton where memorization is considered an insignigicant skill

And obviously I had an education where spelling was also considered an insignificant skill...Not to mention catching typos.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:20 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a person studying for the bar exam right now, I would like to add "God damn it".




...In pretty much every sense: emphasis, exasperation, and invective at the way the test is set up.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 4:23 PM on July 14, 2011


I am looking for a post...
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:31 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I first became aware of this effect when I realized that it was often faster and easier to download a CD by torrent, than to get up out of my chair and find the CD that I had paid for.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:38 PM on July 14, 2011 [15 favorites]


I wish there were mandatory college classes in how to search the internet and what internet information is reliable and what is written by Nutter McNutter of the Crazy Grudge Clan.

There are. Or there should be. The classes may not be mandatory, but they should exist. If they don't exist, or if they exist but nobody knows about them, or if people know about them but nobody cares, the college library isn't marketing itself very well.
posted by blucevalo at 4:59 PM on July 14, 2011


Although I can vouch that I often know better how to arrive at a resource by Google keyword than by URL or insane little nesting bookmark, I am still modestly horrified by people who go to humongous, core-of-the-web sites by Google searching for their name instead of putting the exact same word in the address bar.

No, they don't choose "I'm feeling lucky." Yes, they do include ".com." (Without the second dot, which although DNS canonical, was meant simply as a full stop.) They search for it, then click on the link.

In any case, I often think of which more obscure sort of search path is going to get me to the needed information? Will I need to PubMed it? Scour a certain database? Break down a paywall? Until people realize Data Wants to be Free, Google doesn't always cut it.
posted by adoarns at 5:01 PM on July 14, 2011


Josh: You want to practice parking?
Cher: What's the point? Everywhere you go has valet.
posted by humboldt32 at 5:25 PM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think there's value in simply knowing stuff. You've got to know shit and use shit to develop a feel for shit, and developing a feel is what really helps you when skills are put to the test.

Basic math, for instance. Sure, I use calculators. But if I'm, say, idly wondering to myself how much money I can afford to spend on vacation this year, I'll jot down a few numbers and do some addition and subtraction. I practice those skills. And i think doing that --- having my times tables memorized, calculating the odd percent or ratio --- is necessary to develop a feel for when numbers are wrong, to recognize when I've fouled up my excel formula or when the credit card offer being presented to me is going to jack me. No practice, no feel, no recognition.

I think that's also true for historical and cultural facts, as well. So, no, it probably doesn't do me any good, in particular, to have memorized the flags of all nations or the state capitols. But it's when you put these facts together that you begin to build up an understanding of how the world works, what's important to who. Facts without context can seem dry, boring, irrelevant. But knowing, say, which countries have oil and which don't, who used to be whose colony, how a state was settled and when --- that can tell you a lot about why the world is the way it is. And you need to have some sense of such facts to be able to place new ones in context, to tell when you're being lied to, or when you're lying to yourself.
posted by Diablevert at 5:25 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


it's when you put these facts together that you begin to build up an understanding of how the world works, what's important to who. Facts without context can seem dry, boring, irrelevant. But knowing, say, which countries have oil and which don't, who used to be whose colony, how a state was settled and when --- that can tell you a lot about why the world is the way it is. And you need to have some sense of such facts to be able to place new ones in context, to tell when you're being lied to, or when you're lying to yourself.

Obviously I threw in the jokey post framing but this is a great point that you make. What you relate also comes into play with our "2 new comments" society online. If a topic comes up online and you know something, you can type it, and then provide a supporting link. But if you just kind of know something was controversial or important, but cannot remember what it was (you just know generalities and the overall subject which is half those metatalk posts looking for something) then you're not likely to take 20 minutes to find it, you're just going to mention it and hope somebody else knows, or just not bother mentioning it at all if you have no backup (for worry you're misremembering some piece of it).

But there is so much information that comes though, even with a filter, that it is a reasonable coping strategy. It always comes back around to that weird moment where you go back and look at comments you made a few years ago, and you have facts and information that you have since forgotten, and you have that dead-hand moment where you look at your own self and it feels foreign.
posted by cashman at 5:36 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do this with math concepts. I've forgotten a lot of my high school math and some of the other concepts and formulas that I never use. I can refresh myself, but it's really lack of practical application that caused it to dissipate over the years. So I look things up online and then get on with my day after finding the way to calculate something or an online way to do so.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:32 PM on July 14, 2011


Pretty sure Plato saw this coming. I should probably link to something, but...whatever...it's out there if you want to read about it.
posted by uosuaq at 7:02 PM on July 14, 2011


Didn't Malcolm Gladwell (I know, I know) talk about this effect in, I think, The Tipping Point? The way we store information elsewhere, and remember how to find it? He talked about couples who did much better on memory tests together than with strangers because he said they would store information with each other. Or something like that. Lemme google it.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:06 PM on July 14, 2011


I've said it before, but the Internet is a prosthesis for the brain.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:13 PM on July 14, 2011


The classes about this are called Information Literacy which are now becoming mandatory at a lot of colleges. Hopefully a mefibrarian will tell us more.
posted by sio42 at 9:25 PM on July 14, 2011


I vaguely recall something from antiquarian history...

I know you're making that joke, but in case somebody actually wants this, it's one of the topics in Phaedrus.
posted by stebulus at 10:58 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was so sure this was a double I assumed it was some sort of joke.
posted by fullerine at 12:08 AM on July 15, 2011


Thirty years ago, not long out of high school, I came up with the following classifications for knowing stuff: Type 1 knowledge is things I know without needing to look them up; Type 2 is things I know where to look up; Type 3 is things I know I can look up. And it occurred to me that the more Type 2 knowledge I had, the more time I could devote to acquiring useful Type 1 knowledge.

I can't see why, given the opportunity to use a reliable external memory, you would not choose to do so. I don't think that's intellectual laziness, just pragmatism.
posted by flabdablet at 4:59 AM on July 15, 2011


This reminds me of a bit I read somewhere (possibly the Gladwell book mentioned) about how people outsource/crowdsource portions of our memories by sharing them out among the friends and loved ones we experienced them with, everyone contributing a bit of context and sharing it back and forth like a torrent seed file. "Honey, what was that great restaurant in Barcelona we went to for your cousin's stepson's birthday? Was it in Barcelona? What was the stepson's name again?" So when a friend dies or the relationship otherwise ends, it's devastating in part because we can no longer access our own memories.

Also, the human brain is notoriously bad at keeping "information I remember" while losing "the source of information I remember." So a person can remember the information "Humans only use 10% of their brains!" because they heard that somewhere, but they forget that "somewhere" was "scifi movie on basic cable" and not "Very Respectable Journal of Neuroscience(tm)." If you Google things, you will still read a lot of bunk, but it will at least be sourced bunk.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:22 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, I googled "zombie drawn buggy wrinkly clothes" and this thread was the first hit.

I'm with the rest of you who don't memorize things I know I can look up. Of course, information you work with frequently gets memorized regardless - that's only natural. But how many flags have only one color? That has absolutely nothing to do with why I'm seeing CPU usage spikes on my webserver. Google can have my back on the whole flag colors issue.

There is far more useful information in the world than anyone could possibly memorize anyway. We just have better access to it now.

And next time I need to iron my clothes on a zombie drawn buggy, I just hope my internet connection is still working.
posted by mrgoat at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2011


AGH, bungled my own phrasing here: that should read the human brain is notoriously bad at keeping "information I remember" paired with "the source of information I remember."

In other news, this new FPP is completely relevant to my point.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:55 AM on July 15, 2011


When it became cost-effective to store written language in BCE Greece, adherents of the "arts of memory" heralded it as a sad development for humanity. Our memories would fail, they claimed, and it would hasten the degradation of society.

This attitude persisted in some circles even into the time of the Stoics.
posted by lodurr at 9:18 AM on July 15, 2011


I don't believe it's a matter of us becoming dumb, rather the real issue is laziness. We hardly take the effort to really understand something anymore or... care that the knowledge we're receiving is a gift. Or that we had to work hard to obtain it. For example, so many people now can say they know the drums just by looking it up and watching without being a musician. But this is when musicians like me get pissed off because they don't know. They haven't lived it or experienced what it is to be a drummer or a performer. They just mimic and alas you get crappy viral Rebecca Black videos. Ok, going off a tangent here but you know what I mean. Because things are in seconds reach, again with the whole instant graitification of knowing something without doing proper research, like in the old days, is producing lazy, fucking know-it-alls. My opinion. Sorry, I'm letting some steam out. Carry on.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:36 AM on July 15, 2011


It's important to know what gravity and Normandy are / were all about. But is it important to remember g = 9.8 m/s^2 and June 6th, 1944? While it is impressive to see people who can remember facts and figures, it is far more impressive to grasp concepts and events and put them into context.

I seriously have no idea what my Vonage phone number is and I probably never will. Someone else can figure that out if they want to call me.
posted by jasondigitized at 10:03 AM on July 15, 2011


Jonah Lehrer weighs in: Is Google Ruining Your Memory?
posted by homunculus at 2:05 PM on July 15, 2011


When it became cost-effective to store written language in BCE Greece, adherents of the "arts of memory" heralded it as a sad development for humanity.
Writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them the speakers always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and if they are maltreated or abused they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.
-- Socrates, Phaedrus
posted by empath at 2:19 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


John Crowley spends a fair amount of time talking about memory in Aegypt*, and to a lesser extent in Little, Big, and the general application is related to what Socrates appears to be getting at in the passage empath quotes. His characters use the "arts of memory" (by which he seems to mean primarily "method of loci") as a sort of knowledge-acquisition technique: By personifying or externalizing memories, then juxtaposing them in the space of the 'memory mansion', they're able to identify relations and truths they wouldn't otherwise have been able to discern.

Crowley, in turn, was heavily influenced by Frances Yates's The Art of Memory [sorry, very small writeup, you'll probably do better to google it] -- which I have started and can honestly say is fascinating, but which keeps getting pushed down the bedside stack by other more urgent or less challenging fare.


--
*yeh, i know, it's not called that anymore, but I don't remember what it is called.
posted by lodurr at 5:01 AM on July 16, 2011


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