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 Flew In Airplanes

Air travel became practical for consumers in the U.S. by the 1930s — if you were wealthy enough to afford a ticket. It wasn’t until after the War that average people making long trips looked at air travel as an alternative to trains or cars. For many parents of boomers, their first air flight might have been being sent overseas during the War. However, Armed Forces travel within the U.S. at that time, such as to or from basic training or domestic bases, was mainly restricted to bus or train. Once soldiers, doctors or nurses were deployed in Europe or the South Pacific, they might have taken their first flight.

For many boomers, the building of the Interstate Highway System during the Eisenhower administration (construction began in 1956) meant travel by car between states became easier, and even considered fun for a family visiting relatives or vacationing. As the commercial prompted, See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet, so they did.

Mister Boomer is not sure when his parents first boarded an airplane; it’s not something either mentioned. For Mister B, though, it was a high school senior class trip that put him on a plane. Now more than 50 years have passed and Mister B has been on too many flights to count, for job-related business trips, as well as vacationing and visiting family in other parts of the country.

Flashing back to that senior class trip, though, Mister B remembers he was extremely frightened and anxious about the flight. He had never flown before, and frankly, it didn’t seem natural that these giant metal tubes with wings could stay in the air. A few days before leaving, Mister B was so apprehensive that he wrote a “farewell” letter to his family and friends, presumably to be found in his dresser drawer after the bad news reached home. He had convinced himself that the plane was going down with him in it.

The day of the boarding, Mister B resigned himself to the c’est sera of the moment; whatever will be will be was his thought. Once seated — at a window — Mister B somehow calmed himself enough to stare straight ahead during the takeoff. Having never seen the view of his city from the sky, and ultimately the top of the clouds, Mister B was able to enjoy the scene out the window — while still expecting the worst outcome. Obviously that did not happen, and Mister B had an acceptable long weekend away, as well as one might expect with high school classmates and chaperones in constant sight.

Mister Boomer conjured up these memories because there have been some high-profile incidents in the air over the past few months. It reminded him of some bare-knuckle flights he has been on over the years, like the one flying through a thunderstorm, strapped tightly in his seat, with lightning bolts striking the wings of the plane; or the flight that was filled with so much turbulence that at one point the plane fell precipitously. After what seemed an eternity, the pilot made an announcement reassuring the passengers that the bumpy ride might continue a while longer, and, oh no worries, the plane just dropped 10,000 feet in that last dip.

By the 1970s and ’80s, most boomers had experienced air travel. The Boomer Generation is likely to have been the first generation to say a large percentage of its members took to the air. Currently there are several research studies that are pointing out that boomers are more comfortable with air travel than the Millennials who followed them. Who knew there would be generational differences on attitudes about air travel?

Still, the perception of air safety does not match the data. Ironically, despite the number of people flying per year is millions more than during the prime boomer years, far fewer fatal crashes occur than during their peak of the 1970s and ’80s. The data amazingly provides some reasoning for Mister Boomer’s trepidation way back when. At the time of his first flight, less than 10 million people flew each year, yet in the early 1970s, approximately 10-15 crashes occurred annually. Contrast that with today’s air travel by more than 25 million people, with less than 10 fatal crashes per year. Improved technology both in the air and on land rises to the top of the list to explain the steady drop in airplane fatal crashes.

When Mister Boomer returned home after his first round-trip flights, he immediately grabbed the envelope that contained his in the event of.. message and destroyed it.

How about you, boomers? When did you first board an airplane?