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

18 thoughts on “What was that word again?

  1. I never really thought about how not only memory but also concentration is affected by our obsession with technology. I have noticed that it has become almost impossible for me to go more than half an hour or so studying without checking my phone! I may have never heard it ring but I still feel that urge to check! Also, since I haven’t worn a watch in YEARS I check my phone for the time and end up checking other things as well!

  2. I definitely think that technology has helped us at the price of our attention spans. Sometimes it is good to be able to switch tasks quickly, but often long term focus is necessary and we simply cannot produce it.

  3. This is a great posting and whether we like to admit it or not, I believe the internet definitely makes us stupid. Information is so easily accessable that we no longer go on a long search or journey seeking answers to many of our questions. I may be aging myself by saying this but I remember using the dewey decimal system (if you don’t know what that is Google it 🙂 in middle school to find books to complete history projects, then searching through numerous text books and encyclopedias to find exactly what information I was looking for. Although this process felt extremely long and tedious at the time, their was so much information I stumbled upon during my search and thus lead me to gain much more knowledge in the long run.

  4. Earlier this week I brought this theory up to my COM 200 group. We were talking about our topic for RP2 when I mentioned how I thought I had a terrible memory and that technology had a lot to do with it. Today I know maybe five of my friends birthdays and about three phone numbers. I loose track of my things all the time, and have a terrible time remembering dates on tests. The only think I am okay at memorizing is song lyrics. It is terrifying to think my memory is going down the drain, and that might be because of my dependence on technology. If someone told me that my memory will only get worse over the years, I would try to cut out my dependence on technology as much as possible. I think memory is way more valuable than having endless information at the tip of your fingers.

  5. I enjoyed this post a lot! Everything you guys mentioned is something I truly believe could become a big issue eventually. Our attention spans are cut so short because we are so accustomed to fast pace and short messages. I am fearful for when I leave college that my attention span, which is already short in my opinion, will shrink even more. Along with the idea of ‘Googling’ everything, the biggest fall back is could also be a strength. People can learn more if they choose to by retaining the information they have Googled and apply it.

  6. Until reading this memorization was not something that I had ever thought about when thinking about intelligence. Being able to recite something word for word is an art within itself because it allows for the speaker to engage in a very deeper, more personal manner. I also like how you talk about how google has changed this process, but at the end of the day I do not think that being able to recite a document word for word is what unlocks perfection.

  7. This is a very very interesting study in my opinion. The Shallows sounds very very interesting to me and I would like to take a look at it. I know for a fact that my memory has taken a hit since all of the technology I have been exposed to over the years. When I was younger, it was easy to sit and do homework in my room and I could complete everything in a timely manner. Now, its hard because I usually have the TV on and music playing and my phone beside me. This is not the smartest way to work but its a way I’ve gotten used to. Even if I don’t have all of this stuff on and I’m working, I eventually go turn it on and check my phone or check scores of the game or something. Also lot of times it is easier to check Wikipedia than to look something up in the text book. This is scary but true, and I do believe all this technology has cause a lapse in my memory and probably many others.

  8. Thank you all for commenting! I am so glad I am not the only one who is alarmed by this phenomenon. I have noticed the same attention span problems all of you have mentioned as well (especially the “phantom ring”)!


  9. I remember in middle school my class had to memorize all of the presidents in order, which I felt really cool after I learned them all. However, I agree that the generation of kids that are in middle school now have different standards to live up to than our generation of students. My cousin, who is in seventh grade, is learning how to use the internet effectively, how to use Photoshop, and other things dealing with technology. The focus of education, it seems, is now revolving around technology versus memorizing/understanding facts from textbooks and worksheets.

  10. I remember being in elementary school and having to stand up and recite the Gettysburg Address. It amazes me that students today do not have to do half of the things we had to. My ten-year old brother brings his tablet to school to play on during breaks and none of the teachers care! Technology really has affected how we learn. It is even hard for me to study on my computer without also being on Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook!

  11. I’ve heard this argument a lot, and I think it’s really interesting. I feel like there’s some amount of correlation between technology and attention span, but I also think that technology has done a lot of good for us. One point I would make is that I feel like technology has helped us pick up new information much more quickly then we used to.

  12. It is amazing to see how technology has had such adverse effects on society. However, I like to think that foreign language is one class that encourages using one’s noggin. I am currently taking an intermediate level German class. Everything that is learned in the lower level classes must be memorized for upper level classes in order to excel in the language. Failure to do this will result in a poor comprehension of the language and will affect the effectiveness of what one is learning.

  13. I totally agree with this study! I know personally that I always think I have ADD…..more so because I feel the need to constantly do three things at one time. I am a firm believer that technology has interfered with society’s ability to remember. I am a bartender at a local bar here and I constantly find myself forgetting what people had just told me three seconds previously and I feel embarrassed having to ask what they just told me. I think the being able to “google” every little thing has led people to rely more and more on technology. We need to go back to the basics and start relying on our brains and not just typing things into a smart phone and taking credit.
    -Danielle Salas

  14. It honestly is mind blowing how the internet affects your brain. It’s interesting because I always feel like I am constantly losing focus on things, and it really is all because of the internet. It could be argued that the different webpages are really just multitasking but I’m sure a lot of the people who say that have Facebook or Twitter up on their other tabs. I feel like the unlimited possibilities of the web makes it so much harder to concentrate on just one thing, and because I’m looking at so many different things at a time there is no possible way that I could remember most of it! Ever since I have started using social networks/internet for ours a day I can just feel my brain turning into mush sometimes. It’s crazy! But of course, I just can’t stop using the internet!

  15. I have enjoyed reading everyone’s input on the subject. Many of you have mentioned that we are simply a “new” kind of student and need to learn new things. I agree with you, of course, that we must adjust learning to technology, but the question I want to raise is whether or not we are losing something just as valuable by ignoring traditional methods?


  16. This is not the first time that it has come to our attention that the use of smart technology could indeed have a negative impact on society as a whole. I think its true! Especially to those who are still in school, we no longer really have to memorize because we can look up the answers quicker. I believe that it does have some negative impact in the fact that this technology lets us be “lazy learners” and that the information is right at our fingertips whenever we need it. I can relate to how technology today has had an effect on our attention span as well. I admit that while doing homework, studying, or writing a paper I am constantly connected to my phone. I get sidetracked and during my study sessions I will periodically log onto instagram or twitter. It really gets your attention that by attempting to make life easier for us with smart phones and technology, it is actually making us dumber.

    -Angelica DiPaolo

  17. I really agree with what everyone is commenting and the post, I know I can’t even sit through an hour long clip or movie because I can’t sit down and do one thing for any long amount of time anymore! Technology has made our lives so crazy and fast paced, If your watching tv you are also on your laptop and texting your friend, and if your not doing at least one thing your bored! It’s crazy! I think technology is completely to blame and being focussed is even harder than ever.

  18. I definitely think technology has impacted our memorization and attention span abilities. I made the executive decision to not have any social media other than instagram simply because it is so distracting and prevents us from paying attention to what is happening right in front of us. We cannot focus on anything for an extended period of time without wanting to check some sort of technology. It is useful yes, but also very distracting.

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