Memory Needs Every Method Of Nurturing Its Capacity

If a piece of knowledge is only useless when it’s never used will you ever know it’s useless?


The logic here follows that by the time you realise you will never find out, say if climbing a tree is the best way to avoid a charging Rhino, its probably too late.

If on the other hand you find yourself in a South African forest staring one down you will know. One way, or another.

My head is chock full of such potentially useless pieces of information just waiting for such an eventuality, however unlikely it might be.

Some of the information I put there on purpose because I wanted to keep it or knew it would be useful, such as my bank card pin number or those special moments, those times when you squeeze your eyes tight together and try to fix the feeling, or the sight or the smell, in your head. Other information was gifted to me like tying my shoe laces or knowing that getting punched hurts and then there are the Rhino facts, these just snuck in without me knowing.

If I ever thought my brain had a finite amount of storage I might consider having a rummage around to clear it out. Even I recognize I probably don’t need to know it’s a very bad idea to meet your mum when you travel back in time, or the gestation period of mice.

Fortunately though I don’t think the human brain has a limit on its storage capacity and if it does I doubt I am anywhere close to it.

Three weeks. Try forgetting that now.

So here I am, a few years shy of fifty, I can remember my home phone number from fifteen years ago but don’t know my mobile number of today. I can tell you the identification callsign of a warship which has long since been turned into golf clubs and garden furniture but never remember anyone’s birthday, other than my own. I have encyclopedic knowledge about some very obscure things but couldn’t name more than three characters from Harry Potter.

The current state of technological advancement is incredible, within the relatively short period of time I have been alive the world has changed beyond recognition, I can’t imagine how it would feel to be twenty or thirty years older. That generation must feel like they are living on an alien planet.

Some commentators would say we are living in a golden age of technological advancement however I think this is a case of present moment vanity. Everyone wants their time to be special but I would imagine the people living at the turn of the 20th century felt similarly what with motor cars, railways, telephones, airplanes and the like. The Romans probably thought the same when they sat on a toilet or luxuriated in a warm spa bath. Its only with the hindsight of a few hundred years can someone say such a thing with any level of accuracy. We might, or we might not, be living through a period of world changing change. It just ‘feels’ like it to us because we have no other perspective other than the here and now.

Take this blog for example. I have been ‘writing’ it since 2009 but I have never written even a draft by hand, with a pen or a pencil. Not one. Everything going back the eight or so years I have been churning it out has been typed directly into a variety of increasingly slimmer computers. I can’t remember the last hand written letter I wrote but I remember writing them almost every day when I was travelling years ago.

This is one of the skills I’ve retained in my mega sized, but largely empty, brain, I choose not to use it though and take one of the simpler and easier options available to me these days.

I don’t think its a wild prediction to say that the skill of writing something by hand legibly will disappear within my lifetime. It will move from the mainstream to the fringes, a bit like dry stone dyking.

Today my children still have to learn handwriting at school though. Much to their dismay its remains part of the curriculum to write neatly and legibly but in this regard their school is not in the majority anymore. I approve of the schools stance on this but can’t explain why.

In the real world, outside of school, the art of hand writing anything beyond a post it note doesn’t exist so why do children still need to learn this outdated communication medium?

The only answers I can come up with are unsatisfying and tend to end up with me just saying ‘because I said so’ or worse still make me feel like I am turning into a ‘get off my lawn’ old person all consumed with worry about the influence the music of today is having on the kids.

What else?

I practice mental arithmetic, it helps me in my job but also think its kinda cool to be able to come up with the answer before someone in the meeting has had the opportunity to check on their calculator or spreadsheet. Yes, I know what you are thinking but there you go.

Will maths or arithmetic also be taken out of school given its enough today to know how to enter things into a black box and the black box gives you the answer?

What about the holier than holy, reading and, god forbid, books? If audio books overtake print will reading be removed from the curriculum as well?

If you could fast forward two hundred years and lets assume technology maintains its current trajectory what do you think will remain on a school’s curriculum aside from learning how to enter something into a black box or what black box to use in any particular circumstance?

Based on how things are going not a lot I fear but then the next logical thought would be; who designs the boxes, or develops the technology inside the box?

Probably a small group of elite people, educated properly, who understand how the boxes work. This probably shadowy group understand the ‘what’ but they also understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.

But then as I continue down this path I pause and remember it wasn’t that long ago when only a few chosen people could read and understood the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. Back then the masses had to enter preordained buildings to receive the knowledge which was written down in an obscure language long enough dead so as to dissuade people from even trying to read it for themselves. The few poor souls who did try to translate this knowledge into a language everyone could understand found themselves quickly strapped to a tree with a kindling bonfire below them.

I then pause again and shake my head laughing at myself and the ridiculousness of the Orwellian post-educational-apocalyptic world I have just created based on nothing more than a slight change in the education standards today.

Schools are just trying to educate and fill our children’s heads with knowledge which will be useful to them in the real world – as it exists today. What’s the point of knowing how to avoid an animal safely if it will be extinct soon anyway?

I continue to chuckle to myself as I sharpen a well worn and chewed pencil then hand it to my sulking eight-year-old son and have him write down:


Ten times.


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