Boomers Remember When Memorization Was Important

There have been many scenarios cited about the seemingly lack of memory exhibited by Millennials and Gen-Xers — whether they were made up as jokes or actual occurrences. The scenarios go something along the lines of the younger person stating: “I don’t need to remember things; that’s what the internet is for.” To boomers that can be a frightening prospect, especially when paying with cash in a store, and the cashier does not understand how to give change. The initial boomer thoughts might be that therein lie deep generational differences. Mister Boomer has had these thoughts from time to time, but decided a deeper exploration of how and what boomers memorized compared to what is necessary memorization for today’s generations might be interesting.

In Mister Boomer’s anecdotal survey among his boomer friends and acquaintances about memorization, something came up again and again: home address and phone number. By the time boomers were heading to kindergarten, the need to know one’s home address and phone number was stressed whenever possible. As a result, many of those same boomers say that even now, 50-70 years after the fact, they can recite the address and phone number where they lived in their earliest days of school.

Once boomers began elementary school, the need for memorization increased dramatically, to the point that the line between memorization and learning were intertwined. Numbers and the alphabet had been firmly engrained in our brains, so the next thing many boomers recall in this stage of their memorization development was learning addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables. For that purpose, boomers had flash cards. Some went through the cards on their own, others had parents drill them daily, while others still went through the cards with friends or brothers and sisters.

There are many theories on how memory works, but most researchers agree that there are different levels of brain processing for short-term and long-term memories. Likewise, psychologists say memorization isn’t something that happens in one moment, but rather, is a process for the brain. However, throughout the decades researchers and educators have come upon techniques that work in helping people remember things. Two of these techniques that were vitally important for young boomers were repetition and writing.

As boomers saw with home addresses and phone numbers, and then flash cards, repetition is a proven way to assist in creating long-term memories. Many boomers will recall in high school and college, reading and rereading passages of text books helped them to first digest and understand the material, then to retain it.

Another interesting technique that boomers used for assisting memorization was writing things down by hand. There is something about that connection between the hand and the brain that assists the memorization process. Certainly boomers recall writing down their phone number again and again, and continuing with writing, by hand, notes in classes all through their high school and college days. Coupled with repetition, the hand-written process was a key to boomer memorization and learning.

Some researchers point to how the brain often remembers things by associating a memory with another sensory experience. Almost every boomer can tell you where they were and what they were doing when JFK was assassinated, or when Neil Armstrong stepped on the surface of the moon.

So how have our generations changed? Many boomers recall that they were prohibited from using calculators, when they were available, until the 1970s. Tables, charts, slide rules and memory were necessary in math, engineering and science classes. Today, everyone carries a personal computer in their pocket. Answers to practically any question are a few seconds away, as long as there is a viable internet connection. Is that better than the methods that boomers experienced, or just different?

For Mister Boomer to draw his own conclusions, he went back to memories he had of stories told by his grandparents and oldest aunts and uncles. Boomers were in most cases the last generation who actually spoke with people who were born in the 1800s. What was necessary to memorize in the late 19th century was quite different than what was necessary in the mid-20th century. Mister Boomer’s grandfather delivered goods by horse and carriage into the early 1920s, before the automobile took over. As such, the memory of what was necessary to care for a horse, as well as link a horse to a carriage and drive it, became completely unnecessary a decade later. How many boomers ever held a buggy whip, let alone know how to use it? Is what is happening now in the 21st century similar to the shift in culture that happened as the 19th century became the 20th?

How about you, boomers? Do you remember the address and phone number from where you lived when you were in kindergarten? Did memorization of your earlier days play an important role in the adult life you led up to now?

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