In my last blog post, I explained how laptops can divide attention in lectures. When I was reading up on the topic, I found a study by Betsy Sparrow, which showed that memory is changing such that people tend to use the internet to remember where information is located, rather than the information itself. This raises some important questions, which I’ll discuss in this article, such as why does the memory of the information itself matter if all we need to do is know where to find it online? And how can we improve our memories?
Without our own personal memories, we would have no stories to tell. We wouldn’t have a personality. Memories make us who we are, which is why they are so important. As Muriel Rukeyser eloquently stated ‘The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.’ Ironically, I had to ‘Google it’ to find out to whom this quote is attributed. I imagine that when I saw that quote years ago, I probably didn’t exert much effort to remember who said it, because I knew where I’d easily be able to find it online.
It’s clear that the internet is an extremely useful source of information. However, I think that there’s a risk that it can detract from people’s ability to build long-term memories of important information. For some things, it’s fair to say that there would be no point in memorisation. For example, there would be little practical use to remember all of the phone numbers in your contacts list, when a mobile phone can take away the unnecessary effort. But there is a great deal of information that would be helpful in all aspects of life, if only it were memorised.
So what can we do to improve our memories? When I was searching for answers to this question, I came across a technique called the Method of Loki or the Memory Palace. I was amazed that I’d never previously heard of this technique. This thought process stems from the Ancient Greeks, and it basically takes advantage of our brain’s superior capacity to remember situational information as well as vivid, interacting and unusual associations, rather than the more ‘traditional’ – or ‘modern’, depending on how you look at it – method of rote learning of dry material. The Memory Palace technique works by imagining a familiar route, such as your route home from the shops, and imagining strange visual representations of what you want to remember in fixed locations along the way. What struck me about this technique is that you don’t have to be like the Rain Man to have an incredible memory. Rather, ‘normal people’ can train their memories, using this technique. Memory champion Joshua Foer explains this well in an interview:
I’ve just finished reading ‘The Memory Palace – Learn Anything and Everything (Starting With Shakespeare and Dickens)’. Using this technique, and I can now show off by remembering all of Shakespeare’s plays in order, and I can recite them from back to front. There’s no way that I would have been able to do that in anywhere near the same amount of time through repetition alone.
I intend to do more reading on this topic and practice it much more. It’s a shame that they don’t tend to teach this in schools. Metacognition – learning about learning – is clearly fundamental to the way that we think and learn. Joshua Foer poses an interesting thought when he asked ‘How many worthwhile ideas have gone unthought and connections unmade because of my memory’s shortcomings?’ If more people were to use this method, as a society, we could benefit from the informational advantages of the internet, and improve our individual memories’ retention of the information itself.
One response to “The Memory Palace”
[…] I would contend that the imagery use for text learning and mnemonics was given a low efficiency rating, because in general, students aren’t taught how to use them properly to their fullest potential, which is not the same as them being inherently limited. I wrote a bit about this kind of memorisation technique in my last blog post. […]