What was that word again?

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth…” and the rest I can’t remember. I know I’m not alone in the painstaking task of memorizing the Gettysburg Address, but are current junior high students the first generation to not participate in this tedious tradition? Dating back to 5th century BCE Sophists, memorization has been considered a great asset for rhetoricians. Sophists are known for their emphasis on teaching effective dialectics. One aspect of their teachings included encouraging their students to memorize long discourses to persuade their audiences. Sophists, who were masters of persuasion, considered memorization an art form of delivery.

Now we have the ability to look up any information at the touch of a screen. If we don’t remember something right away, we don’t have to struggle for that tidbit to rise to the top of our brains-we can just ‘Google’ it. Some scholars suggest memorization is simply not a part of the modern student’s duty. Has this asset now become irrelevant?


Image: Shaw Nielsen

The Shallows, written by Nicholas Carr, analyzes the impact technology has on our brains and our thinking processes. We may not be able to measure if there have been long-term consequences of being glued to technology but some short-term alarms have been noted. Carr and other researchers have noticed technology’s impact on our attention spans. We are unable to sit to stay concentrated on one thing for a substantial amount of time with flipping to different webpages, checking our phone and flipping through TV channels…and all at the same time. The debate is whether we are learning more simultaneously or losing something we once valued: our memory. Carr comes to the conclusion that, although technology makes us smarter in certain areas, it makes us less intelligent in others. Is one impact of the rise of technology on mankind the loss the art of memorization? Or is this simply technology opening our minds for other tasks? The Sophists are surely turning over in their graves.

-Rachel Edwards