I have had a new thought on an old line of thinking. Way back in 2010 I wrote a piece called Profound article by founder of Wikipedia on Education. In it I quoted quite a lot but one big point was it doesn’t make any sense to have students memorize things that they can look up. On the surface that makes sense to me. I followed that up with a concept I found called the Extended Mind. In Teaching to an Extended Mind I gave the following example:
It’s not such a great stretch to imagine everyone reading this post has a cell phone right? How many numbers do you have programmed into it right now? I have about 20. Now how many of them do you have memorized? I have 4. I don’t even know my brother’s cell number off hand.
Does it matter? Only when I forget my phone.
This is exactly where I want to pick up that train of thought. Does it matter? I’m beginning to think it does, not because of what we don’t remember but it is becoming clearer to me that our brains are constantly evolving and changing. They optimize for the tasks they are asked to do. Perhaps not memorizing things is causing our brains to lose related abilities?
Let me explain how I came to this conclusion. I’ve been watching my 4.5 month old son Nicholas as he is learning. In the last two weeks he has started sleeping poorly but has been much more active and inquisitive when he is awake. I think a part of his brain has just switched on. He seems like he is looking at the world again for the first time, like he’s reevaluating everything he’s seen. Now I don’t know a lot about baby development but I do know a little about brain development. Their brains aren’t fully operational when they are born. Perhaps this is to slow them down while their bodies become more functional? Now he can do a lot more with his body, his brain is turning on full blast.
It’s remarkable watching him. I can almost see the new neural pathways being connected. For example about a month ago he learned how to roll over onto his stomach. For the next two weeks that’s all he wanted to do and now he’s good at it. Today he rolled back the other way for the first time (I’m such a proud papa)! He will do the same thing and practice to learn how to become good at it. Our brains are like that. We need lots of practice to become good at something. If we were once good and stop doing something, we tend to lose skill and ability.
So is our memory like that? I have noticed in the last 6 months that my wife has told me things and a few days later I have no memory of the conversation at all. This bothers me. I used to forget things but once she reminds me I at least remember her telling me. Now I don’t. Why? Perhaps that part of my brain has atrophied?
So if it happens to me who didn’t grow up with the Internet, what will happen to kids who never learn to rely on memory? Would we perhaps see an epidemic of problems focusing? Perhaps this would be diagnosed as ADHD? Perhaps we would also see a lot more autism?
I think I’m going to start a self training program for my memory and focus abilities. I’ll let you all know how it’s going.
I don’t have answers to all of that yet but I’ll think on it some more. If you have any thoughts, please add them to the comments!