Memories

Liam Julian

I'm reviewing a book by Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein, that will hit shelves on Thursday, March 3rd. (For background, check out this piece from Sunday's New York Times magazine, or this segment from yesterday's edition of All Things Considered.) Foer's book is about memory, and in addition to detailing his own idiosyncratic experience first covering, then training for, then participating in, then winning the U.S. Memory Championship, he devotes substantial time to walking down, if you will, memory lane?to recounting the history of memory and humans' experiences with it. In one passage, he notes how our ancestors feared writing because they believed the new technology would wilt minds. Only by memorizing information, they thought, could humans really know it. They could not conceive of writing as a?record of data?the record was supposed to be inside individuals' heads?and so written material for a long while functioned more as a reminder, a tool to ignite memory, to get its gears whirring, rather than documentation. Today, of course, we've moved beyond the printed word to the pixelated. Man's history is not held in minds but in Google. Students are no longer asked to memorize soliloquies or poems or even, in many cases, multiplication tables. This seems inevitable, but are we nonetheless losing something? As the art of recall disappears, does something important disappear with it? Does a pupil, in installing a sonnet in his memory, perhaps learn more about that sonnet than he otherwise would?

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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