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.
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.