Why we shouldn’t memorize: Memorization in the age of pocket computers
Our process of understanding ourselves and the world through institutions begins with we learning to memorize alphabets, numbers, their combinations, colors, various objects, peoples names, etc. This process then somewhat persists throughout our life. While we mostly learn things by experiences outside the institutions, both our basic information on the subtleties of the world and our capacity measurement is based on memorization.
In most education systems throughout the world for a long time now, memorization has been the fundamental criteria of measuring intellectual capacity.
Those who can memorize alphabets and numbers the furthest and in shortest time are rewarded with high ‘marks’ right from the beginning of our education and they are treated as if they were not just smart but the smartest children in the world and they too begin thinking and acting that way.
Similarly, those with low aptitude for memorization do not attain the high ‘marks’ and are deemed ‘slow’, ‘incapable’ and ‘untalented’ until they figuratively slap the judges in their faces by demonstrating their capability in either creative-innovative-improvisational endeavors such as arts or in physical-mental endeavors such as sports.
Yet the academic systems remain adamant and they continue to construct criteria based on memorization abilities. This is because academic systems are fundamentally organizations that have the responsibility to produce human resources that are most beneficial to the support, sustainment and development of the ideology and the causes of the prevalent power structure.
Memorization is the most effective measurement of loyalty. How else would you select people that will be most useful and obedient for you than by testing their ability to perform the most basic, mundane and painful tasks out of fear?
Memorization is such basic, mundane and painful intellectual task and educational systems utilize a specific type of fear — fear of failure.
Examinations based on the ability of memorization are analogous to examining the physical capability of a person by making him carry a large bucket to the river, fill it with water and carry it for a hundred metres only to pour it all in a pit of sand. The river being the wealth of information available, bucket being the mind, water being the needed examination information and sand being the examination paper. Just as the water quickly disappears into the/from the sand, the information too doesn’t hold up in the mind for long. This process of memorization is only for the test and has nothing to do with understanding the concepts.
The point is — memorization, being made very rewarding and prestigious, rubs off through our life, culture and society in such a way that memory abilities are revered and placed at the highest strata of intellectual ability.
While creative-innovative talents achieve great success in various areas of society and the most popular people in any society at any given time are those people and not memorizers, the system keeps pursuing the memorization route. If you go and ask any government, they will tell you that they would rather have 2 loyal bureaucrats than 100 creative entrepreneurs!
Power complaints aside, memorization being as hopeless, senseless and useless as it is, it did have one crucial advantage. It allowed people to remember things of importance for situations of importance. For instance, one might be in a discussion on the future of her country where suddenly she has to justify a point she made on geography by citing the area which she doesn’t remember, it would have been stupid of her to get up, take an atlas out of her purse and look up the information. It would have been more so to carry an atlas all the time. It would have helped if she had known that bit of information!
But luckily those days are behind us. Today, all of us carry almost every voluntarily generated human information in our pockets and those devices aren’t even shameful to look at!
Memorization has always been useful either as an obedience test or as a knowledge and intellectual ability showing-off activity. But just as the fact that the fastest playing guitarists are far from being the best musicians, the best memorizers are far from being the best minds. In fact, if anything, the best memorizers are the dumbest people, otherwise who else would carry that amount of burden in their head for validation when it can be freely used for greater creative, experiential self-generated success.
I haven’t conversed with one, but I believe the greatest actors are the ones who understand the essence of the dialogue and creatively deliver it, instead of repeating them word by word. Same goes for musicians who can improvise. If you really want to remember a poetry or a song, just focus on understanding the meaning behind each word and enjoy it, the words will automatically be remembered. It isn’t memorization, it is familiarization!
Next time anyone comes to boast to you like that character does in a bar in Good Will Hunting, just take that phone out of your pocket and read out 10x more information on the same topic. Just remember to have some charge left and yeah, don’t give in...Prove to that individual and to the world that computers remember far far better and effectively than humans!
There’s an old story of Einstein where,
He was once asked the speed of sound. He didn’t know it, so he answered cheerfully: “I don’t know. I don’t burden my memory with such facts that I can easily find in any textbook.”
We have reached many steps further today. We don’t need to know such facts because we have it in our pockets at our convenience. If our systems still persist with memory tests, we should proudly fail!
But we do have to remember to use the available information to infer facts. Relieving our brains to do much more important tasks such as imagining, creating and dreaming.
Unless…we would want to proudly serve the powerful!