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?

Boomers Watched Kids and Animals on TV

If you are a boomer, you probably watch your fair share of network TV. In that non-streaming venue, there are nearly as many commercials as there is time for program content. So Mister Boomer, as a student of our culture, takes note when he discovers a pattern among the commercial ad offerings. For example, a couple of years ago, there were several Little Red Riding Hood references in commercials.

Lately, Mister B noticed there were three commercials running concurrently that use the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Though it is a children’s story, two out of the three commercials portray Goldilocks as an adult or teen, still looking for the “just right” in her life. In one of these ads, Goldilocks, while living with the three bears, searches for the perfect home online at Redfin. In another, a teenage Goldilocks breaks into the home of the three bears as per the story, but chooses between three cold-brewed Dunkin’s coffees on the counter instead of porridge. It’s only in the third one where a young Goldilocks, apparently living in the home of the three bears, is eating a sandwich made with Nature’s Own bread. Mama Bear turns to Papa Bear and says, “If you keep feeding her like this, she’ll never leave.”

It has been said in multiple circles that our culture turns to animals and kids in times of change and stress; it’s evidently an instinctual need for some warm fuzzies. While the economy boomed after the War, social change was imminent, disrupting what came before. Perhaps that is one reason there was a preponderance of kids and animals in TV shows, movies and TV commercials throughout the boomer years.

TV broadcasting was expanding and included a great deal of children’s programming as well as family fare. Animals and children were featured in many.

Between 1950 and ’56, there were seven successful movies that featured Francis, the Talking Mule. An Army mule, Francis mainly spoke to the soldier he befriended (but rarely to others). After the war, Francis went to live with his soldier friend in civilian life.

Mister Ed, the talking horse follow-up to Francis, had its TV moment from 1961-66.

Children and animals were teamed in several shows. In Rin Tin Tin (1954-59), an orphaned boy named Rusty, taken in by soldiers at the Fort Apache outpost in Arizona, is accompanied by a German Shepherd. Though the dog does not talk, he is loyal and wise enough to assist whenever there was trouble.

Even more than Rin Tin Tin, Lassie (1954-74), the title dog character that also only barked on occasion, appeared to more than understand and help the humans around him. This time the boy, Timmy (also orphaned), seemed to always get into some trouble and needed Lassie’s help.

Of course, cartoons in movies and on TV were filled with talking animals right from the start. When TV came around, cartoon characters became the spoke-characters for numerous products, most notably sugar-coated cereal.

National TV commercials were filled with kids or animals, or both. For many boomers, one of the most memorable was for Red Rose Tea. A group of trained chimpanzees performed as the Marquis Chimps in England and on U.S. variety TV shows, like The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1960, the animals were given instruments to appear like they were playing in a band and singing the jingle for Red Rose Tea. The commercial and jingle were so popular that in 1968 the jingle was licensed by two Pittsburgh DJs and released as a 45 rpm record.

As for lovable kids, there may not be a more memorable TV commercial boy than Mikey. Little Mikey made his debut on Life cereal commercials in 1972. The premise was the kids did not want to try the health-focused cereal. They get the notion that Mikey can try it for them, because Mikey did not like anything. Of course, Mikey liked it.

The boomer years were filled with animal characters and kids doing amazing as well as mundane things. Maybe it was a way to grab a wider audience or product market share by showing kids themselves on TV. Maybe it was piggybacking on the post-war years of talking animals that originally were aimed at adults before children. And maybe, in some small way, it was a societal balm intended to heal wounds and connect commonalties among our differences.

Do you have a favorite animal or kid commercial, boomers?

Additional reading: Talking Animals Sold Cereal to Boomers