Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dyslexia, Memory, Socrates and Smartphones

Socrates disapproved of writing. It was not an aid to memory he said, but a replacement. If people could use symbols on a sheet of paper to record information, why would they bother to develop the latent power of their minds?

Socrates was right. As literacy spread, the use of memorization techniques dwindled. The art of memorization used to be part of the foundation of learning. But from the time I entered primary school to the day I graduated from university, only one teacher bothered to tell me how to remember things.

Even he only mentioned memory two times (as far as I can recall). Once to let us know that there was a difference between short, medium and long term memory. And once, after using a particularly entertaining simile, when he told us that the ruder the imagery we connect to a memory, the easier it would be to hold on to. (Alas I cannot repeat the image that he shared with us that day because it would never get through adult web content filters.)

Few today would say that the exchange of literacy for memorization technique was not a trade worth making. But for dyslexics, who may have particular difficulty with short term memory, memorization techniques can still be very useful. The loci system, for example, which has become a powerful tool for me, turning an area of weakness into a strength.

Socrates Memory and Writing
But if writing was an anathema to Socrates, what would he have said about the information revolution?

Followers of this blog will know that I recently bought a Dell Streak smartphone/tablet to help me with organization. I've had it a week now and have discovered that it is helping me to remember things in a way I had not anticipated.

How long until the parking expires? When should I head in to town to the Writers' Club meeting? When will I need to collect my wife from the train station on Wednesday? Two dyslexic issues converge on questions such as these: short term memory and tracking the flow of time. But by using the calendar alarm on the Dell Streak, I now don't need to remember. This may sound trivial, but it removes the layer of background anxiety that goes with struggling to do something one is congenitally poor at.

What would Socrates say? He'd probably tell me to work on the memory rather than using an external solution. But perhaps by removing the anxiety associated with remembering times, the smartphone will give me the space to do just that.

We will see.

11 comments:

Paul said...

I doubt that Socrates had dyslexia, but I'll bet he had Asperger's. Easy for him to focus and concentrate.

Sounds like you had a wonderful teacher back in the day.

Rod Duncan said...

Hi Paul,

I take your point.

Yes, that teacher was very good. Unfortunately I did not achieve much in terms of grades in the 'A' level that followed, but I will say that I learned a huge amount.

It does amaze me though that - given the importance placed on being able to remember things - no one ever taught me how to do it.


:-)

BubblewrapPrincess said...

Difficult to know much about Socraties as most of what we know we get second hand from Plato.

Intresting topic though. I did have teachers teach me how to remmeber things, they were all History teachers though. I was always told the funnier something was the better you'd remmeber it, things like that.

Most tellingly I think, is that we only remmeber Socraties because someone else took the trouble to write down things about him, some of which is probably fictionalised.

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks for that Bubblewrap.

Socrates and Plato - ironic indeed :-)

Rebecca McCarthy said...

Paul, my students and I are talking about this very subject, minus the dyslexia. But I was attracted to your post because I too am a writer, and dyslexic, and teaching about the Phaedrus. Go figure. Anyway, I love external devises that help me navigate my memory and I thought you might be interested in reading Your Life Uploaded by Gorden Bell and Jim Gemmell. Inexpensive book and you can get it just about anywhere and in ebook form as well. Also, you might be interested in the concept of transactive memory - that is, when we use external devises and people to remember for us-kinda like outsourcing our memory. It turns out Socrates/Plato might have been right, but who cares :) Interesting studies in this area. Peace.

Jayps said...

I myself got an iPhone. I went from the person who forgot assignments, dates, birthdays and the like to someone who kept on track. But I noticed once I got out of the routine of it, everything would start again. The security of calendar tracking alleviated much of the sudden anxiety attacks that I had.

Jayps said...

I myself got an iPhone. I went from the person who forgot assignments, dates, birthdays and the like to someone who kept on track. But I noticed once I got out of the routine of it, everything would start again. The security of calendar tracking alleviated much of the sudden anxiety attacks that I had.

Jayps said...

I myself got an iPhone. I went from the person who forgot assignments, dates, birthdays and the like to someone who kept on track. But I noticed once I got out of the routine of it, everything would start again. The security of calendar tracking alleviated much of the sudden anxiety attacks that I had.

Jayps said...

I myself got an iPhone. I went from the person who forgot assignments, dates, birthdays and the like to someone who kept on track. But I noticed once I got out of the routine of it, everything would start again. The security of calendar tracking alleviated much of the sudden anxiety attacks that I had.

Jayps said...

I myself got an iPhone. I went from the person who forgot assignments, dates, birthdays and the like to someone who kept on track. But I noticed once I got out of the routine of it, everything would start again. The security of calendar tracking alleviated much of the sudden anxiety attacks that I had.

Jayps said...

I myself got an iPhone. I went from the person who forgot assignments, dates, birthdays and the like to someone who kept on track. But I noticed once I got out of the routine of it, everything would start again. The security of calendar tracking alleviated much of the sudden anxiety attacks that I had.

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