Google, Memory, and Education

Dear Reader,

Have you seen this story on how google and the like are affecting our memories? It seems that if people can remember where to find information, they do not remember the information itself.

I have also heard it said that Socrates decried the learning of reading and writing as the end of memory as he knew it. And when you think of the long oral narratives the ancients were able to memorize, it is staggering. Few if any of us could memorize and recite the Iliad today. There is a segment of homeschoolers at least that seeks to delay reading to improve their children’s memory and oral story-telling abilities. But beyond this, I have never heard of anyone suggesting that we remain illiterate so that we can have better memory skills. The fact is reading and writing are wonderful things. We have access to so much more information and great stories and ideas because we are able to read and because books are so plentiful and easy to obtain.

The internet too has opened many doors. It is so much easier to find resources one needs or to quickly look up a bit of information one seeks to know. Knowing where to find the information one wants is a good thing.

But still a lot of what we get from the internet is disconnected facts. And as this study shows these facts are less likely to stick with us. This would not have surprised Charlotte Mason who argued that children need to learn to make connections with what they are learning. They need to be fed ideas and not just facts.

So what is the solution? Are we to avoid the internet or give into it? Often I think we make these things too complicated for ourselves. Knowing the dangers the internet may pose, we need to be on guard lest we become lazy intellectually. But we can still use the internet to good advantage as long as we are also deliberate in our efforts. When I google facts for my kids, it is often in response to a question they have asked me because of the connections they are making. If they had no interests, they wouldn’t come up with the questions that we then need to look up answers to.

Perhaps it takes more deliberate effort, but I think we can use the internet wisely so that it serves us rather than becomes our master. Perhaps when my child asks me a question about, for example, Holland, instead of just looking up statistics about that place, I can also look up good, living books on it which we then read together. It is as if ym child asks me for a carrot and I say instead, “Here is a carrot but look at this salad. Isn’t it appetizing? Let’s try the whole thing.”

And as far as Socrates is concerned, I think he is right. We did lose something when we became literate. But even this we can try to counteract. We can make an effort to memorize longer poems and stories and to become good at telling them. It takes more work, but if it is something we value, we will be deliberate about doing so.

Nebby

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