“Over the last few millennia, we’ve invented a series of technologies … that have made it progressively easier and easier for us to externalize our memories, for us to outsource this fundamental human capacity.” – Joshua Foer, February 2012
What did people do to remember things before there were computer-based appointment systems, on-line calendars, notepads and iPhones and digital alarm clocks – or even pencil and paper? They had to memorize them, of course. Before there were written records people had to be able to store and transmit information using the original computer, the human mind. Some cultures today still depend on the oral tradition to keep their histories and stories alive and passed down from generation to generation. But even in the most technologically-advanced society, a trained memory is more important that the latest gadget, if you want to be able to remember and take advantage of the information you have around you.
In a previous post, we talked about the World Memory Championships, where people who have trained their memory to an amazing degree compete in challenges that require them to memorize random numbers, names, photos, or cards in very short periods of time. We also mentioned Joshua Foer, an “ordinary” guy who learned that he actually has an extraordinary memory – and that anyone can develop those same skills. Recently Foer gave a talk as part of the TED “Ideas Worth Spreading” lecture series, in which he discusses his experience at the Championship, and some tricks that we all can use to improve memory. It’s a short 20-minute presentation that’s full of valuable ideas, and you can watch the video here.
“As bad as we are at remembering names and phone numbers and word-for-word instructions from our colleagues, we have really exceptional visual and spatial memories.” – Joshua Foer, February 2012
One of the main points that Foer makes is that humans are a visual species for the most part, and a trained memory can use visual skills to boost memory. Using the mnemonic technique known as method of loci (which Foer and others also refer to as a “memory palace”), you can build visual maps of images and connect the information you want to remember to those images and locations. This is one of the key techniques used in the Ultimate Memory software, and a trick used by memory champions around the world. Read more about “mental maps” in this post, and take Foer’s advice to start putting them to work for you today!