I once read a story about a reporter who interviewed Albert Einstein in his home. As the interview drew to an end, the reporter asked Einstein if it would be OK to ask follow up questions by telephone. When Einstein agreed, the reporter asked him for his phone number. Einstein walked across the room and pulled out the phone book to look himself up. The reporter was flabbergasted that Einstein didn’t know his telephone number. Einstein was astounded that the reporter would expect him to clutter his brain with information that was readily available wherever he went.
This could be the response we start to get on all kinds of information that we used to have to memorize in school. In this day of instant access to the Internet from all places, it’s hard to place a value on memorizing facts. Memorization may become the source of parlor tricks and trivial pursuit before long. We may look at people who can name the state capitals in the same way we look at Chau Lu, the world record holder for memorizing over 67,000 digits of pi. Actually, most of us look at people who can name the state capitals in an odd way now.
I don’t know which side of the fence appeals more to me. I know that much of what I’ve memorized over the years is darn close to useless information. I can still recite all of the being verbs, but I couldn’t find them in the first page results on Google. In fact, several Google references quote there only being 8. The real number is 23. I know…useless information really.
At some level though, it seems that by memorizing facts, we’re better able to make use of new information. If we stop exercising our brain in this way, we may lose something incredibly important. So cheers to Danny O’Malia, who knows the mascot of every NCAA Division I school. Or the Pi champion, Chau Lu.