The Searchers vs The Rememberers

I’ve been having some good conversations with younger and older people around what’s worth committing to memory and what’s not.

Best told by sharing bits of those conversations…

I have an iPad with many, many apps which I have put into folders (like Games1, Games2 and Games3). So they’re organised, but of course I still forget where every single app is. When I’ve been methodically opening folders and looking for that elusive app, more than one 8 – 10 year old has calmly said ‘Why don’t you just search for it?’. To which I respond, ‘It’s OK, I know it’s here somewhere’, and keep opening folders, and keep looking…..

I was at an BBQ recently and some of the younger people had some music on which sounded like Bollywood disco to me – another adult said ‘What is that music?’. Quickly taking out my iPhone, I fired up Shazam and had the answer in about 10seconds (I still find this a form of magic by the way). Move to the next day when the Narnia movie ‘Prince Caspian’ was on at home. At the end, as the credits scrolled, we listened to a simple but moving song. My wife wanted to find out the name of the song, so we waited while the credits scrolled by, waiting for the name of the song to appear. An 8 year old in the room said ‘Why don’t you just Shazam it?’ She had made the link between how we found the name of the song at the BBQ the day before, and the use of that tool to help us now find the name of the song. Needless to say, Shazam gave us the answer before the credits had finished.

Parallel to these conversations I’ve been chatting with fellow adults who are lamenting that children don’t have to remember much these days, they just ‘search’. This has opened up some intriguing ideas about learning and what is worth learning.

So far my impressions are that the kids are applying skill in recognising the mass of available information and dealing with it by ‘searching’. I think some of us adults apply the knowledge environment of our youth – the adults in the house, the local library, the encyclopedia in the home, the TV, newspaper and the radio. Much of it unsearchable and only available when someone else decided to send it you. They apply this model to the current knowledge environment, see the kids searching instead of committing to memory and perceive it as a retrograde step in education.

Sometimes there is also an apocalypse scenario – “What if Google et al collapse – how will the kids know anything then?” Reminds me of how pocket calculators were supposed to result in an innumerate generation….

So my take is that there are easily enough smart kids out there already using their minds to get the mass of available information to work for them.

And one last point: who says they don’t commit a lot to memory? Maybe they just don’t limit themselves to remembering discrete facts (Shazam one day, wait for movie credits the next day – which is how I was working) but also focus on linking information to get it to work for you more quickly (the 8 year old who made the cognitive link: Shazam helped us yesterday, see if it can help us today).