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Are Computers Stealing Your Memory? 519

alangmead writes: "According to this article in the Sunday Times an increasing number of people in their twenties and thirties are suffering from severe memory loss. Doctors blame this problem on their over relience on PDAs and computers for holding information for them. As one doctor succinctly put it, 'Young people today are becoming stupid.' I know that I rely heavily on PDAs for keeping track of things for me, but it was because I was already forgetting things. Maybe my decision to use them is rather short sighted."
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Are Computers Stealing Your Memory?

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  • Yes engineering's worth is self-evident.

    Now let's look at art. Music in particular.
    It taught me discipline, motor coordination, time management, and finely tuned listening skills. Music develops connections in your brain that are useful for other things-- for example, musicians tend to make good programmers, since there's a lot of structural thinking on small and large scales in both disciplines. It also teaches communication, teamwork (gee THAT's never useful in the real world), and creative thinking.

    I've always thought it to be a good thing to balance out one's disciplines, that's why I double-majored in physics and music. And if it weren't for the music programs in middle and high school, I would never have gotten that opportunity.

    I've known too many engineers that really excel in just one thing. Why? People are capable of so much more than that!

    In a nutshell, I just see Utilitarianism as being boring, but that's just me. I know many great minds who aren't engineers at all. However, they aren't as naive to think that great minds only work in their particular field.
  • Whatever pseudo-scientific principles the study is based on, you shouldn't believe the results, even if they have a couple anecdotes to back them up. There wasn't even a control condition reported!

    It's a summary in the Sunday Times, not the research article itself. What did you expect? Perhaps you believe that every popular news story on a scientific topic should reprint the actual reasearch article in full?

  • To quote from Phaedrus:
    ...But the king said, "Theuth, my master of arts, to one man it is given to create the elements of an art, to another to judge the extent of harm and usefulness it will have for those who are going to employ it... The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it because they will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, using the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves, rather than, from within, their own unaided powers to call things to mind.
    (I wish I could have quoted that from memory, but I had to use Google to look up a citation []. :-)
  • Perhaps the notion of PDA's being responsible is a blind alley. I would like to see some real statistics, but the notions of significant quantities of 25ish people suddenly experiencing significant memory problems is a very disturbing notion!

    Perhaps the mad cow prion disease is secretly rampent in the population, and the vaguest warning signs are only now just beggining to show themselves. Maybe it is a new, as yet undiscovered virus. Maybe it is the ever increasing quantity of electromagnetic bombardment we all recieve as a result of wireless communication technologies.

    I have no idea. But if it really is true that a lot of young people are beggining to show significant memory impairment... That is very frightening!

  • How we educate our children has nothing to do with how we punish our criminals, and nor should it even have to do with how we fund our athletics--they're in completely different social spheres, only loosely bound together by a common interest in squandering tax monies.

    If studying trivial matters can lead to studying important things like the hard sciences, then I applaud you. But a quick look at death row will find many who found their way to religion by killing people. Is it really worth the expense?
  • Going along with blaming this reporting on grumpy old men - have you ever noticed that the older types seem to keep downplaying the fact that the distribution of unrenormalized IQ scores has been steadily rising, something like 5-10 points with each generation, ever since the 1930s? Why is that anyway? Better schooling? Better parenting? More nutrition? More information availability? A healthier environment? At least taking the lead out of the environment has helped. But the gloom-and-doom types like to ignore this fact.

    One of the most amusing (yet supposedly serious) books I ever read was a debate from some time in the 1970's between a proponent of "nature" (i.e. genetic predetermination of IQ scores) and another fellow who claimed (A) "nurture" was very important and (B) IQ didn't measure much meaningful anyway. The "nature" guy got into hysterics over "regression to the mean"; from which he seemed to take the conclusion that dumb people had dumb kids (of course), but smart people tended to have dumb kids too (that regression to the mean thing). From which he concluded we were doomed to ever-increasing levels of stupidity in our descendants!
  • If it's a random phenomenon, then what are we doing wasting our money to try to encourage it? If it isn't a random phenomenon, then why aren't we using methodologies that produce greater successes?

    And if we had to pick a modern language to recode our minds in, it'd have to be C -- they use it for kernels for a reason, you know.
  • "Skill and drill" at the state school level gives kids the raw material they will later need to even begin to grasp principles let alone apply them.

    How do you think you got into Caltech in the first place?

    I will agree tho', that some students wilter in the face of "skill and drill", and that may well be due to an inclination that first wants to know how and why rather than simply what.
  • Colt M4A1 Carbine: $3100
    Kevlar Vest and Helmet: $1000
    Flashbang: $250

    Forgetting to wear pants to work...


    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • by ni488 ( 241926 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:33AM (#454885)
    cat memory >> /dev/null
  • by sirinek ( 41507 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:33AM (#454887) Homepage Journal
    Look at Taco & Hemos and their frequency of posting duplicate stories, and then find out which type of PDA they're using. :)


  • by dirtyboot ( 158648 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:33AM (#454888)
    Wow, I'm inclined to trust a doctor's opinion who equates memory loss with stupidity.
  • by Rude Turnip ( 49495 ) <valuation&gmail,com> on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:33AM (#454889)
    Albert Einstein never bothered to remember menial things like phone numbers. He'd probably be a big PDA user if he was alive today.

  • by macsox ( 236590 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:33AM (#454890) Journal
    I think my memory loss might be more related to the tendency of people my age -- smoking a lot of pot.

  • In a nutshell, I just see Utilitarianism as being boring, but that's just me.

    The problem isn't with utilitarianism, it's with naive utilitarianists. The original poster is a great example:

    If they don't have an immediate and apparent application, then they're not worth pursuing.
    The arrogance of this is breathtaking. It implies a clear, simple, immutable understanding of what all human activity should be for. It also assumes that the world is simple enough that all worthwhile goals are simply and apparently connected to things that contribute to them.

    Both of these are clearly and demonstrably untrue. The world's a big, complex place; anybody who thinks they know it all hasn't been paying attention.
  • Wow! There's so much wrong with this post that I don't know where to begin. But here's Exhibit A:

    1.Engineering's worth is self-evident. [...]3.Physics is overrated. All the great minds are like my fellow engineers at IBM.

    Oh, of course! "The smartest people are all just like me!" Hey, that's original. If you had read a little more history, you might know that this is a classic mistake. Or a little more art in your life and you might have heard of hubris.

    4.Art is vulnerable to misuse by tyrrants in propaganda.

    Which is, of course, utterly unlike the products of engineers, which are never used to maintain tyrrany.

    You're just being ridulous here; art and literature have an enormous power to subvert, and all tyrants suppress "dangerous" art. Note also that broadly educated people are immunized against propaganda in ways that uneducated people and people with only technical educations cannot be.

    Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are wonderful unattainable quanitities.

    So? You can never get to "East", either, but that doesn't mean that compass directions are useless. Moreover, capitalized essences like Truth and Beauty were a western intellectual fashion; they are an interesting way of looking at the world, but by no means the only one. Yet another thing you don't learn in a Mech E class.

    It's not that things can't be nice or pleasant, and perhaps someone is willing to pay for such commodities in the free market. But if we're going to finance public education with public taxes, then we'd better show some results now.

    I will happily grant that art instruction shows absolutely no value this week. You can't eat it. It doesn't keep you dry in the rain. If an animal bites you, you can't use it to cover the hole.

    The utilitarian value of art is in the longer term. For the artist, the value is twofold. As another poster pointed out, art develops skills and capacities that are not easily gained otherwise. But beyond that, the artist uses art to explore the world, to come to grips with and to gain and understanding of something. Art is especially good at dealing with the sorts of non-rigorous and ill-defined areas that science is poor at: perception, emotion, culture, and what it means to be human.

    For the consumer of art, the utilitarian value is not mainly, as you seem to think, entertainment. It is in the ability of art to present new views, to challenge old understandings, to convey and evoke emotion.

    A Slashdot-friendly example is George Orwell's book 1984. It makes issues of privacy, transparency, and the power of information control accessible to anyone, and it gives it personal, viceral meaning. Through his art, George Orwell developed his view of the evils of totalitarianism; through his art, he helped us all see his terrifying vision.

    That piece of "useless" art has been continuously in print for more than 50 years. Thank goodness you weren't on his school board to guide him away from "useless" activities. And thank goodness you weren't on my school board to cancel the literature class where I read it.
  • Perhaps this is a sign of a greater shift in importance from pure memory to analytical skills. The teaching world seems by and large to have followed that.

    Let's not forget that cultures that predate written language are documented as having extraordinary memories (for example, much of the Old Testament was passed down through generations by memory before it was finally written down). Our minds got rewired when we formed language, when we began writing, etc. So, now that external information storage is so easy to come by, it's natural that our brains will be less trained to handle this aspect of our lives.

  • It nearly borders on eugenics: if the bottom portion of the population is doomed to failure no matter what rehabilitative processes we enact, then why shouldn't we just weed them out to begin with? You don't need to be reminded where this kind of thinking can lead.

    Education should embrace children's potential. You seem to want to leave them lying in the gutter.
  • It's the same document it was two hundred years ago precisely because it was intended to last for all time as a universal declaration of human rights in the face of tyranny.

    We may have higher taxes than we used to, but that's because we chose to under the 16th amendment. Unlike your country where you're perpetually beholden to the whims of your parliament, we answer to no one but Divine Providence and the letter of Law.
  • Hahahaha. You crack me up.


  • You leave me hanging for two days only to come back and laugh at me? To laugh at my country? To laugh at my hopes and dreams, the glories and aspirations of this great land?

    I stand for something. We stand for something. What do you stand for?
  • OK, I will go into more detail

    It's the same document it was two hundred years ago precisely because it was intended to last for all time as a universal declaration of human rights in the face of tyranny.

    And it is a fine document. I really mean that. The US constitution is a fine blueprint for how any fair demcracy should be styled. Unfortunately, it is being subverted by your government and seems to be heading to being nothing more than a footnote in history. People like yourself hold it up as some magical shield against tyrrany when what the US constitution actually is is just words on paper. It needs to be carried in the hearts and actions of the people to be effective.

    It's like when Sen Ashcroft was being quizzed about his support of gun rights and it being needed as a protection against a tyrranical gov't. Sen Kennedy said "Do we really have a tyrranical govt?" (or words to that effect). Well, duh dufus, people *have* guns.

    We may have higher taxes than we used to, but that's because we chose to under the 16th amendment.

    I don't suspect anyone in the USA walked up to the ballot box and put an X next to "more taxation". In fact, I think you had a rather effective revolution a couple of hundred years ago precisely because of taxation. The fact is that taxation has been increased by politicians. You might say that the country has a choice to choose the politicians that make the laws but currently, the Dems and Reps have it pretty well sewn up between them and neither of them seems to have a real yen to cut taxes. So no, I wouldn't say you'd chosen them.

    Unlike your country where you're perpetually beholden to the whims of your parliament, we answer to no one but Divine Providence and the letter of Law.

    Yeah right. England is a democracy (forget the queen woman) and from experience of both systems (though less with the US) I'd say they were both pretty much neck and neck in the fairness/corruption stakes. Both beholden to corporate interests but better than many other systems. You might start waving your constitution around but you already know that holds no weight with me. It's the politicians you need to be showing it to anyway.

    As for what I stand for? Well, ruthless self examination and eternal vigilance. Western governments, the US included are heading away from the "right direction" not towards it. To be in denial about this is to be part of the problem, not the solution. The only thing I was laughing at was your absurd belief that because you have your constitution, everything is hunky dory


  • And it is a fine document. I really mean that. The US constitution is a fine blueprint for how any fair demcracy should be styled.

    Nonsense. The Constitution is a horrible blueprint for how any fair democracy should be styled. It leaves very few matters up to direct vote by the citizenry: originally, only representatives in the popular chamber of congress (the House of Representatives) were directly elected. Senators and Presidents were indirectly elected by other representatives (legislatures and electoral colleges, respectively), and judges/ambassadors/etc. were appointed outright. The Seventeenth Amendment extended popular elections to the Senate, but the amendment is unconstitutional on its face under Article V (which prohibits any amendment that would deny states their equal suffrage in the senate; under the 17th amendment, states are no longer represented at all -- only their citizens are).

    Then there's the three-fifths compromise (counting slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of representation) and another obsolete Article V clause prohibiting the prohibition of slavery. And the whole Bill of Rights was tacked on after the fact as an afterthought and one that doesn't go far enough.

    I don't suspect anyone in the USA walked up to the ballot box and put an X next to "more taxation".

    Actually, we essentially did. The latter half of the 19th century saw the rise of the populists who championed a strong central government as the salvation of many social problems. We'd had federal income taxes of one sort or another off and on for half a century before they were struck down by the Supreme Court in Pollock v. Farmers Loan and Trust as violative of the Article I mandates of appropriation of direct taxes amongst the states. It took another twenty five years, but the 17th amendment was eventually passed. Albeit, that was back when income taxes were reserved for only the extremely wealthy, and even they payed only on the order of 5%.
    England is a democracy (forget the queen woman) and from experience of both systems (though less with the US) I'd say they were both pretty much neck and neck in the fairness/corruption stakes.

    England is a parliamentary republic in the most obscene sense. For better or worse, you don't even pretend to have a written codified constitution constraining your parliament. Even the glorious Magna Carta was a mere act of positive law, reversable by a simple majority tomorrow.

    As for what I stand for? Well, ruthless self examination and eternal vigilance.
    Good answer.
  • as Einstien used to say, never commit to memory anything that which you can write down. I used to get very upset with myself when I couldn't remember the memory map of my c64 or the hex value of every opcode. The attitude is perverse and only necessary if you plan to be stranded on a desert island with your c64. Since when has memory had any association with intelligence what-so-ever? That's sort of quiz show mentality went out in the 50's didn't it?
  • I personally used to remember every single one of my appointments. I got tired of doing it and began to write everything down. Now I make no effort to remember, but instead check my calendar every day. Does this mean I can't remember? No. It just means that I freed my brain up to work on other things.

    Another observation is that this article appears to be somewhat misrepresented here at "/.". The article presents 2 different possible causes for memory loss. The first is that young people have relied too much on technology and have not exercised (my word) their brains enough. Thus, they lose their memory abilities due to the brain's equivalent of obesity. The second is that there is so very much information in today's computerized society that the brain gets overloaded and loses its ability to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Thus, people lose their memory abilites due to the brain chucking away important things and remembering unimportant things.

  • by dolanh ( 64212 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:50AM (#454924) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps this is a sign of a greater shift in importance from pure memory to analytical skills. The teaching world seems by and large to have followed that.

    I'm taking a math class right now and having a hard time because the prof seems to have put such a high emphasis on memorization. However, working as a programmer in lots of different environments and rapidly changing technologies, i've found that my capacity for research has helped me far more than my memory.

    Too much info == not enough time to process it. The younger you are, the more info is thrown at you, and the better you get at processing it, but the less time you have to spend memorizing any of it. Information is commoditizing, and consequently becoming less valuable intrinsically as consituent parts. Those who can make sense of it in a larger view do well, and those who hang onto it will find themselves with that info and not much else when that info is no longer valid.

  • by Astin ( 177479 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:51AM (#454925)

    Please, using a PDA is no different than telling your secretary to remind you of your appointments for the day, or keeping numbers in a rolodex, or even having your secretary keep numbers in a rolodex. "Ms. Smith, please get Mr. Brown on the phone". I'm sure any programmer with a PDA can remember the syntax of all the commonly used C commands, regardless of whether they know their mother's phone number. I think that's a much more impressive feat of memory.

    However, there is some relevance here. As we rely more on technology, we become more interested in things getting done, and not how they get done. For instance, many grade schools now allow calculators to be used in grade 2 to add and subtract. Only a couple lessons are spent on multiplying or division, and then it's simply plugged into the calculators. What this results in is that students get their homework done faster, and with fewer calculation mistakes, but they have NO idea why it works. When these same students hit calculus, algebra, etc, they become lost, because they don't have the basic mathematical foundations to understand the more complex ones -- they just know the calculator can do it. Society ends up with people pulling out a pocket calculator to figure out how much the tax on their big mac meal is going to be because they can't add 5% in their heads. This ignorance simply perpetuates itself. Instead of understanding how a mathematical simulation of a complex model works, it's taken for granted that some programmer correctly entered the formula they were handed. The answer pops up, it looks right, so we continue on, and then boom, a nuclear bomb goes off in Iowa.

    Someone with solid basic math skills could probably make a killing by adding an extra percent to grocery, restraunt, or shopping bills, because just about anybody who checked their bills wouldn't have a clue that they were being overcharged.

  • ...about this, I can't remember where though... I think it said... um... forget it, next time I'll bookmark it.
    • Memory, like ALL things, improves with practice and training. Frankly, nobody's ever taught how to remember, and few have any incentive to learn.
    • The volume of information a person is exposed to is vastly greater than was the case a few decades ago. And the same was true then. Since people's brains aren't growing proportionately, some things are going to fall out.
    • PDAs, etc, allow people to record more complex information. 10 years ago, you'd probably remember a person's first name, phone number and probably use mnemonics to simplify even that. With PDAs, you can record their address, birthday details, alchohol tolerence, etc, straight-out, rather than in brain-coded form.
  • by big.ears ( 136789 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:56AM (#454935) Homepage
    This story is ridiculous. Whatever pseudo-scientific principles the study is based on, you shouldn't believe the results, even if they have a couple anecdotes to back them up. There wasn't even a control condition reported! Big deal if a bunch of young people report that they have memory problems. Young people have had memory problems for thousands of years. An ancient strategy is offloading memory to external memory devices (pads of paper, pieces of string, your girlfriend, etc.). Even if they found out that younger people had greater memory problems (which they didn't), they didn't show that younger people use memory aids more than older people (from the research I've read, older people tend to use external memory cues more frequently than younger people). And even if they showed that younger people used these external memory aids more (they didn't), the correlational nature of the study does not preclude other factors from causing this, such as preservatives in our foods, radiation from household appliances, nutrasweet, drugs, alcohol, pokemon (the research was from Japan), or even new and revolutionary bedding products.

    Oh well. More crap for the "information overload is a disease" pamphlets. Using external memory aids is only going to help you remember things better, so don't take the article's implicit device and throw out your datebook.

  • I don't mean to troll, but I really disagree with the hypothesis of the experiment.

    I think the more likely culprit is nutrition and changes to the educational system more than whether or not we are using computers and PDAs.

    Firstly, did you know that the amount of monosodium glutamate (a neurotoxin and flavour enhancer) and preservatives in food has been increasing by a factor of 10 every decade? This means that today's teens and 20 year olds are consuming around 10,000 times the number of preservatives and chemicals that our parents consumed, and we are consuming them often during critical mental and physical development stages. Laws go into place so that companies have to indicate monosodium glutamate on their ingredient lists so that people can avoid it if they want. You know the solution companies use to avoid this? Hide MSG in completely natural sounding ingredients like hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extracts, natural flavour, modified starches, etc... They might seem natural, but they're teeming with chemicals that our grandparents were largely not exposed to.

    Who knows the long term effects of these chemicals on people? In fact, it's been shown that even in people who are not sensitive to MSG, the amount of MSG consumed, on average, in a day, overexcites and kills (fries) a large number of neurons in your hypothalamus.

    Education systems have also changed. My mom went to school with the nuns and they were forced to spend long hours at night memorizing things like Shakespeare passages and such. We don't encourage that in today's education system. Memory is like a muscle; the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. Less emphasis goes on memory and more emphasis on thinking. Thus it's only natural that memory will decrease.

  • In a previous life, I was an air traffic controller. Since we didn't have the luxury of using PDA's to store the information we needed, we depended upon our ability to store short-term information (aircraft callsigns, requests, temporary procedures) along with long-term information (area maps, long-term procedures, regulations). As my career progressed, I could easily keep track of ten or twelve 5-character aircraft ID's and recall them instantly from memory, all while listening to radio traffic and some guy trying to talk to you on the landline while issuing control instructions to several different aircraft in my airspace. The good controllers could do this. The ones that couldn't ended up as supervisors.

    When I quit this line of work (there's not an awful lot of market demand for burnt-out air traffic controllers), my short-term memory went to shit. I'm lucky to be able to remember my home phone number, and I certainly can no longer listen to someone rattle off a string of characters or instructions, and then regurgitate them verbatim. It's apparent to me that short-term memory is something that's developed over time, and is also something that atrophies over time when it's not used. Long-term memory is still there: I can rattle off an approach clearance per the 7110.65, although there's nowhere on my resume to put that particular skill.

  • Einstein said that you should never memorize what you can look up.

    - - - - -
  • For example, Alzheimers has been linked to television - the rapid cut scenes of television mean that the visual part of our brain has to work overtime to completely regenrate its mental map of the world every few seconds.

    Another study I read linked eye-blinking to Alzheimers. Same reasons. Boy are we in trouble.

  • 1) Too many drugs: I'm serious -- did they control for this variable?

    2) Look at this quote: "One high-flying 28-year-old salesman treated by Dr Sawaguchi was forced to give up his job when he found himself forgetting where he was going, who he was supposed to be seeing or, when he finally got there, what he was selling." Maybe he's just trying to do too much and is burning out, PDA or no.

  • by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:00PM (#454952)
    I'm not real impressed with the people who wrote the article, either. One preliminary study, a few doctors with anecdotal data, and suddenly "Growing numbers of people in their twenties and thirties are suffering from severe memory loss".

    Sloppy. Very sloppy.

    I wouldn't be surprised to find that memory responds to how much it's used, and/or to "information overload", but this article makes a very poor case for it.

  • Well...oh crap - I forgot why.
  • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:00PM (#454954) Homepage Journal
    As I became a computer geek I went from remembering books worth of information in my head to keeping a rough draft of many many more types of information in my head along with knowledge of how to find the details when needed. So it may seem I remember fewer things but really it is just a memory management technique. For me I can't completely work when you take away the Net because it's became a part of my mind. Eventually I suppose enough people will evolve around the Net that it'll have a direct hack to the Net directly into the human body. Every step closer takes us that way. Mainframe to desktop to laptop to PDA etc. It gives intelligent people great flexibility to be able to only remember what they must and to store the details somewhere else. Anyone can be reasonably expert in anything if they learn how to look up the information on demand and understand how it goes together.
  • dear lord otaku.
    I just posted like 5 minutes ago and I used the EXACT SAME ANALOGY!

    Sad how much space counterstrike information has eaten in my brain... heh I find it more fullfilling, that's for sure.

    Gonzo Granzeau

  • Back in Hs, everybody i knew who was smart used a daily planner or some sort of calendar to keep thingss straight. I always just remembered everything, starting in grade school. Now I have a much better memory than most people i know. Sure, sometimes i forget an assignment or something, but this is very rarely, in fact i dont believe it has happened in the last year or more. If you get in the habit of just remembering everything youll always have your schedule around and you wont be lost when your pda gets fried or your date book gets lost.

  • Yes, of course! THAT's the answer to our problems. Let's brainwash our kids, enforce conformity, and exterminate the artists. I'm sure the world would be a much happier(umm, no), healthier (umm, no), and more humane (umm, no again) place to live.

    Please go back to your hive and tell the Queen that we prefer to think for ourselves nowadays. Your brute-force method of implementing "common sense" makes you sound like a Fascist.

    "Only that way can we insure that the new generations can learn from my generation's mistakes and fulfill our promises of greatness."

    You obviously aren't the model for the new Master Race. The mistakes of past that should be learned from are based on the misadventures of small-minded technocrats who sought to eradicate free thought and make the world conform to their sense of morality.

    [You should have been beaten more in English class... or is it your plan to do away with the inefficient rules of the English language, like the difference between "ensure" and "insure"? Doubleplusungood, citizen!]

    And whose "promises of greatness" are we trying to keep? Yours?

    Keep your dogma off my humanity.

    We thieves, we liars, we vandals, and poets. Networked agents of Cthulhu Borealis.

  • My memory is all shot to hell, but I sort of figured it was because it was ram-packed with hundreds of ips -- networks, host addresses, etc.
  • by Faulty Dreamer ( 259659 ) <.gro.smaerdytluaf. .ta. .remaerd.> on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:03PM (#454968) Homepage
    Nice point;-). i find it humurous that nearly every generation will go out of their ways to claim that the current generation of young people are "getting stupid!" Now we actually have old-coot scientists that are going out of their way to prove it.

    Funny how the technophobic generations claims that computers are to blame for the lack of intelligence that they attribute to the youth. It isn't technology that is making kids stupid. It is parents and grandparents telling them what fucking idiots they are that is making them stupid. You get told how dumb you are often enough, and eventually you give up on trying to "get smart". Eventually you just shrug, turn on the boob-tube, eat your commercial sponsor's favorite products, drink you commercial sponsor's favorite soft-drink and hope that the next commercial says it's time to upgrade your favorite toy.

    Gee, who's fault is it that kids are supposedly stupid?

    Personally, I always thought that the kids of any generation actually have the potential to be far, far more intelligent than the previous generation. It's only natural as we gather more knowledge and learn new methods to problem solving. Perhaps it's simply fear of the youth that causes older people to accuse them of stupidity. I hope they remember that when they are too old to take care of themselves that they were constantly telling the youth how goddamned stupid they are. Don't expect too much pity from the abused assholes.

    (And for the record I'm 27, not the age of the youth of stupidity as described. But I remember being told how stupid my generation was too. For the most part I agree, but I have always hoped I managed to avoid fitting the stereotype.)

  • are not only failing to learn how to think, they don't even know what to think about anymore. This is why you see much greater emphasis on arts and other trivial applications of human talents, instead of engineering and classical studies.

    Just curious, but in what qualitative and quantitative measures do you believe arts are trivial compared to engineering and classical studies? Truth, Beauty, and Goodness can all be found in arts, as well as sciences; and each of these is defined in classical studies, if not by the laws of physics.

  • by Pope Slackman ( 13727 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:31PM (#454978) Homepage Journal
    So what if people use Palmpilots as auxillary storage for stupid crap
    (like '1 yr anvrsry 05/23, make rez at cafe de la pimp', for example).

    Just because you use a Palmpilot to 'remember' appointments does not mean you're getting 'stupid', just that you have more important things to keep track of in 'moist memory'.

    My 'trivial crap memory' has sucked as long as I can remember (heh), but stuff I've done on a day-to-day basis in the past sticks to this day.
    I could prolly be back up to speed in VB within a day if I had to be, even though I haven't touched it in ~3 years.
    It's the one-off stuff that catches me, and thus, goes into the Visor.

    Sounds to me like the case examples referenced had more to do with people not paying attention in the first place, rather than forgetting.

  • When I was younger, similar arguments were made regarding pocket calculators: so many people were fussing about it that we in fact weren't allowed to use them at all (not even for square roots and logarithms) until something like grade 7 (this happened in Italy BTW, not sure what's the situation here in North America).

    I personally think that electronic aids *help* people become smarter, since one has to use less brain power for trivial things (i.e. remembering your doctor's phone number or that you have a dentist appointment in three weeks). Being able to calculate a logarithm or a square root by hand doesn't mean that you're smart, most of the time it means that you are able to find your way around logarithmic table books ;)

    I am sure that similar arguments can be made about cars: since when car usage has become widespread, the population has become much more sedentary (with all the problems associated with it) but at the same time the quality of life has become better in many ways (if you get sick, you don't have to wait hours/days for a doctor to travel to your neck of the woods).

    If PDAs are so bad, why don't we ask the author of this article to stop using his computer and write future articles with a chisel in a slab of stone? I'm sure that overreliance on word processors has made as many people stupid as overreliance on PDAs...
  • Aren't scientists of all people supposed to know these things?

    They should, but they've been using their intelligence-sucking Palmpilots too much.


  • Not everybody can be a poet, novelist, painter, or philospher. But we sure as heck could use a few more McDonalds attendants that can add or read the captions of the little pictures of a hamburger.

    Need I say more?

  • Yes, it runs linux and you insert it into a child's ear.

    The content of your choice will be directly forced into the brain through rap-music.

    The unfortunate side effect is that if there is a buffer underrun (no content to force) the child immediately begins producing Movies like Save the last dance...

    I'm throwing the prototype away.
  • Short-term memory loss is also a frequent side effect of common anti-depressants like Prozac and Zyprexa. I bet the more widespread acceptance and subsequent prescription by more doctors/psychologists has to do with the memory loss.

    Now I'm sure this was relevant to something... what were we talking about, again?

    ...More Powerful than Otto Preminger...
  • by Skeezix ( 14602 ) <> on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:58PM (#454992) Homepage
    As a programmer, I can see both sides to this. On the one hand, that's what manuals are for. I shouldn't have to memorize every single function name and what its arguments are. On the other hand, many things are very very useful to have committed to memory for the sake of efficient programming. The programmer who has a good subset of Emacs or VI commands committed to memory and can generate complex regex's on the fly, will be much quicker at doing complex editing tasks than the programmer who looks these things up in a reference every time he needs them. If you get in the mode of always looking up and copying, you may retain some of the more common commands simply due to repetition. However, if you consciously examine the command (actually observe the thing) or think of a simple mnemonic device for recalling it, you'll have much better command and efficiency over the toolset you are working with.
  • That article was ridiculous! Complete media hype with no scientific evidence at all. OK, some salesman forgot where he was going? (a) that seems pretty normal behaviour for ANY sales-person in my experience, and (b) one person hardly makes a scientific correlation.

    I'm 24, have been using computers/PDAs since I was 5. I bought the first freakin' Newton for cryin' in the beer! If anything, having to remember IP addresses has helped my memory, rather than hindered it.

    People have had the analog equivalent of a PDA for decades! What about all those 1980s, dot-com equivalent, wall-street high-flyers with their leather-bound day-planners? Did writing down someone's phone-number in their address-books cause them to forget their mother's maiden name? I think not.

    Any as far as the information overload issue, if anything, the digital generation is better at weeding our useless information than their elders. I can watch TV, listen to my stereo, talk with friends and code all at the same time. My parents have to mute the commercials on the TV in order to think.

    At any rate, this is pure media sensationalism. If students are getting "more stupid" these days, why the hell can't my dad program the freakin' clock on the VCR or write down a URL I say over the phone.

    -Name Forgotten

  • If they don't have an immediate and apparent application, then they're not worth pursuing. It's not that things can't be nice or pleasant, and perhaps someone is willing to pay for such commodities in the free market. But if we're going to finance public education with public taxes, then we'd better show some results now. Waiting for the frilly possibilities and hopes for tomorrow just won't cut it.
    1. Engineering's worth is self-evident.
    2. Classics are what the great civilizations were founded on. If we are to surpass the great empires of Rome, Athens, and Mongolia, then we must understand their cultures and not the cultures of systematically oppressed peoples (who've been weeded out of the memepool), no matter how much sympathy we may feel for their plight.
    3. Physics is overrated. All the great minds are like my fellow engineers at IBM. The physicists are the ones who'd rather sit around, pontificating on what the particles feel, rather than how they can be put together into useful building blocks.
    4. Art is vulnerable to misuse by tyrrants in propaganda.
    5. Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are wonderful unattainable quanitities. We shouldn't fill our children's minds with false hopes of what cannot be achieved. We should give them the skills to make it in this life the best they can, before they eventually succumb to their mortal fate. It's the compassionate thing to do.

  • It appears that the end of the article suggests people aren't bothering to remember names and numbers, that PDAs and speed dials are keeping us from placing names, addresses, and phone numbers into long-term memory. We enter the data in under 20 seconds and poof! we're on to short attention span moment 153 for the day. To remember something, you repeat it to yourself for about 30 seconds. It's a shame the article takes such great lengths to remind us of short- and long-term memory spans.

  • I found it interesting that the story was somewhat typical of medical and science journalism these days. Here are the facts from the article:

    One scientific study: Hokkaido University, Japan, 150 people aged 20 to 35, showing 10 had "severe problems with memory"

    One quote from the university's professor of neurobiology, including "Young people today are becoming stupid."

    2 "journalism" case studies, of two young people who suffered from extreme memory loss (the human angle)

    3 experts from Japan, Britian, and the US, who guessed at why this might be the case, all pointing fingers at technology (all who gain from people with memory problems).

    1 typical British hyberbolic headline, "Computer-mad generation has a memory crash".

    This kind of reporting seriously annoys me. The original scientists call it a preliminary study, it gets posted on the wire, and "journalists" make the story sound like they just discovered a cure for cancer or that the end of the world is next week. Journalists once were the voice of moderation (let's check the story, just the facts) but now have resorted to encouraging panic to sell papers.

    For one thing, this research has yet to be independantly verified. It is possible that the study was flawed / biased, that the results aren't as bad as they first seem, or that 7% of the population has ALWAYS had "serious memory problems" by the age of 20. I know a few kids I went to school with had problems memorizing, even before they were in the second grade.

    This seems to be a raw old-world vs. new-world story. A few extreme cases are used to call the entire younger generation flawed, to say that new teaching methods suck, etc. etc., until you want to walk away and say "You don't get it, old-timer!"

    Sure, I have trouble remembering dates, times, birthdays, etc. That's because, when I judge a date to be important, I put it into my PDA, which reminds me with enough time in advance to do something about it. I simply don't spend any time memorizing this stuff. But I can judge what is important and what isn't. Important stuff goes into my backup memory (the PDA), unimportant stuff goes into the shredder.

    To say that the PDA is making me stupid makes as much sense as saying cars make us slower. Sure, if it was me vs. someone from 2000 years ago, that person may be able to walk 10 miles faster than me. Maybe significantly faster. But I can beat him with a car anyday.

    The end test is effectiveness. I believe we haven't come up with an education method that truly prepares kids for working with technology, but we are getting better. The answer isn't to take away technology until they've memorized tables and historical dates, but instead to teach them to use the technology more effectively. If they have to look up when Columbus landed in America, but know how to use Quicken to do their taxes and use Outlook to insure they never have to send a belated birthday card, then more power to them. Or better yet, can figure out Linux or BSD enough to use the open-source versions.

    Let's stop living in 1950, and start living in 2050, or at least 2000.

  • Okay, what exactly is a PDA or a computer? It is a storer of information. What is a booklet, a notebook, or a filing cabinet? The same thing, but less efficient. Quite simply saying that "young people are becoming stupid because of computers" is like saying that anyone who takes notes on a pad of paper and then looks at those notes later is also "stupid." These people aren't stupid, they're at least smart enough to know when they need something to help store their information.

    Doubly funny is that a doctor would say this. Doctors typically have nurses and staff secretaries to help keep track of the things that they quite simply forget. How a secretary or a nurse cleaning up after you is better than you taking notes in a notebook (or PDA) is beyond me. This is just somebody who has some sour grapes in regards to PDAs blowing off steam.
    chip norkus(rl); white_dragon('net');
    mercenary albino programmer for hire
  • by grovertime ( 237798 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:10PM (#455014) Homepage
    I agree with your assessment of the doctor. Memory does not equal intelligence on any scale. This memory issue comes down to one hinge: there are two kinds of people. Those who finish what they start and so on.

    1. humor for the clinically insane []
  • by jrcamp ( 150032 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:37PM (#455018)
    Well, apparently you didn't learn that you sit on your ass instead of talking on it in school. Oh, or was somebody supposed to teach that to you?

    I am glad that today I'm taught how to think instead of what to think. Maybe you're thinking of church instead of school? I don't know, but I learn what to think by myself. Nobody tells me. I am just taught the basics of how to solve a problem, then I must piece the puzzle together myself. I can't always have a teacher standing by my side when a problem comes up that I have never seen before. If I learn to just "do" a specific problem, then I will never be able to do a different problem, even if the concepts behind the two are related. I must learn the concepts first so that I can apply them to any problem.

    Strict memorization is not the key to anything, besides getting an "A" on your test or quiz. You may be able to recall the information that day, but what about the next day? Or the next year? I doubt you could recall it. What is important today is application. You don't learn what 2 + 2 is. You learn how to get your answer. Of course, one doesn't have to ask themselves "ok, I have two, and I have to add two to it, what do I have now?" After applying the concept of addition over and over to the same problem you naturally remember the answer. This is the best way, by far, to learn--not only in math, but any subject.

    However, if you don't know what an answer is, you learn where you can find it. It is so much more important today to know where you can find an answer if you don't know it, since there is so much more information today. It's more important to learn "how to get an answer" than "the answer." That's why teachers in math, physics, etc. give credit to incorrect answers. It's the correct steps to getting to an answer that are more important. Not the answer itself.

    You had to learn how to recall trivial things, because it was the only way to survive and prosper. The best minds of my day were like that.

    That doesn't work today, unless you plan on going on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Application today is the key. Not the recollection of pointless facts.

    You have to give them rigid rules and test them on their grasp thereof.

    I took one of those today. They are called quizes. I have another one tomorrow. It's called a test.

    You can't teach a whole generation to drive society by encouraging them to feel about driving. You have to give them rigid rules and test them on their grasp thereof. And if they don't conform, then you make them conform.

    You add 2 + 2 and you get 4. Hypothetically, let's say that when I see 2 + 2 I had 1 + 1 + 1 + 1. I did it differently than your way, which is the "normal" method, but am I wrong? By your standards I am.

    What's needed is a better combination of the two methods. We should insist that our children learn both what and how to think. Only that way can we insure that the new generations can learn from my generation's mistakes and fulfill our promises of greatness.

    So in Literature class, we should teach students that one work sucks just because, but this other one doesn't instead of explaining why it is such a good work and how to distinguish them from others that are not?

    So, to summarize everything here, school today is not about remembering answers. It's how to get answers to infinite amounts of problems. There is only so much that you can remember. There is no limit on the application of concepts. Now there is something you can remember. So do it.

  • I think you're 100% correct here. Even those people who do add and subtract by hand, because they had to, typically don't understand why or how these things work. To extend your 5% example, the vast majority of people I know try to figure out 5% by multiplying their $5.99 by .05 and then adding 5.99. I do such things by taking 10%, which is easy, and dividing by two, which is also easy. Furthermore, 5.99 = 6, so we're talking 6 * .1 = .6 * .5 = .3 + 5.99 is $6.29. If you live in a place where tax is (as it is in the county I live in) 5.5%, it's similarly easy. If 5% is $0.30, then 5.5% is $0.33, so we get $6.32 as the total.

    Another example: 24 * 17. I just found another person who does this problem in their head intelligently instead of following the same method they would use on paper, which requires remembering too many numbers to perform accurately. Everyone else I know tries it the hard way, and most fail. The procedure is as follows: 24 is almost 25, so use 25 and remember that you cheated. 25 * 17 can be easily calculated because 25 * 4 is 100, so 25 * 16 is 400 so 25 * 17 is 425. Now, remember that we cheated, and added an extra 17 by going from 24 to 25. 425 - 17 is 408. Presto. Written down, the method seems complicated, but in practice it is very quick and efficient, because it only uses small numbers, unless the big numbers are easy (100, for example). Another way to do it is to recognize that 24 * 17 is the same as 12 * 34. 10 * 34 is 340, and add 2 * 34, which is 68. 340 + 68 is 408. Someone taught to think about the problems they're given rather than punch them into the calculator would recognize these shortcuts, rather than compute 24 * 7 [7 * 4 is 8, carry the two. (remember both those numbers) 7 * 2 is 4, carry the one, add the two that you had from before, and then get 168 (remember that)] and then add 24 * 10. [4 * 10 is 0, carry the four. 2 * 10 is zero, carry the two, add the four you remembered, and get 240, now add that other number. What was that again? Oh. 168. 168 + 240 = 408.] Which would you rather do in your head? I don't worry about people who can't remember phone numbers. That's what palm pilots are for (among other things). It's when people are bowled over by such simple problems (and math is just the easiest example) that I really get concerned.

  • I don't have a PDA (or GSM for that matter) and I'm forgetting heaps of stuff daily.. In fact I just remembered I should be calling a friend of mine.

    What's true is that PDA's just make you look much smarter than you really are though, and one can start wondering whether society is currently being pushed beyond human capacity with all these nice little techtoys.. Still, if buying a PDA can save you from the pain of your colleagues throwing silly looks back at you on monday morning, gimme gimme! :)

    No sir I'll be training my memory for just a while longer, for one it gives me a kick being able to do things without stupid techcrap, it's like this extra challenge, and lastly those PDA thingies may be very fancy but I'm not buying them unless they start becoming less restrictive in use (keys, voice rec, wireless,..) less expensive, and most of all, SAFE FOR OUR BRAINS (as opposed to GSM's which are not, but apprently no one cares)

  • Well, from my statistical sample of one, I really have to say "bollocks".

    I'm in my twenties. I do NOT own a PDA. I don't even own a cellphone or a calculator (mainly because I don't actually need any of these things, so see little point on spending money on them).

    Despite this, I'm still terribly absent-minded. I tend to remember interesting stuff in incredible detail, but boring stuff like phone numbers, and the names of people I'll only ever meet once, I tend to forget (the former I write on a piece of paper). I even forgot to do the State Inspection on my vehicle for two months. However, I didn't forget the policeman's reminder because it suddenly got very important (the removal of wealth in the form of a fine if I didn't get it done within 10 days!)

  • Hear! Hear!

    It's a conspiracy: get all the young'uns to smoke so much pot and use digital "assistance" so ubiquitously that they will eventually not care that their lives are being lived for them.

    Personally, I find the holy triad of reefer, pen, and paper to be empowering. Something about lugging silicon around just isn't Jah-like.

    And those doctors don't seem to have much to say when it comes to comparing this "trend" to past generations. Who is to say that these 10% of people are actually getting FURTHER in life because of technology than they would have if they had to rely on their smarts? Kids getting dumber? Nope. We're just leveling the playing field so that any idiot can fake it as long as he/she has their "organizer" with them.

    Besides, they must have said the same thing when the printed page became popular: "Kids today are getting stupid: they can't even recite the entire Illiad without having the book with them."

    And all this "can't distinguish between important and unimportant information" will get sorted out pretty soon. The ones who don't notice the "don't walk" signal while deleting spam off their PDAs will soon find themselves removed from the meme/gene pool...

    We thieves, we liars, we vandals, and poets. Networked agents of Cthulhu Borealis.

  • You can extend the idea of a PDA being a memory crutch to anything of that nature. When you jot a person's phone number on a piece of paper, you are not trusting your memory. The more you do this, the more you will fall out of the practice of remembering things at all. The truth is, you didn't just forget it, you never really observed it fully to begin with. You just wrote it down on a piece of paper or entered it into your Palm Pilot. When you meet a person at a party and 3 seconds after he's told you his name you've forgotten it, chances are you didn't really hear it to begin with. It "went in one ear and out the other" so to speak.

    I discuss these and other principles in my memory document:

  • "Many experts believe information overload is making it difficult for some people to absorb new information, as they have reached a limit of what they can store in their brains. These people forget things because they were too distracted to absorb them in the first place."

    Holy sh*t. This is *so* me. I have been getting increasingly scatterbrained over the last couple of years (coincidentally since I've taken a full-time software development position). I can't remember discussions I've had, or specifics of meetings. I can't stand to read much except to-the-point news and manuals. I even keep a friggen sticky note with my phone number and address near the telephone so that I'm not flustered when I order out, for Christ's sake. Man, and I thought I had like early-onset alzeimers or something. I need one of those daily brain teaser calendars or something.
  • Your memory is one of the most powerful tools you can ever have - for business, programming, playing games - whatever. Memory training coupled with speed-reading skills should be taught at school (but sadly is only done so in a few very rare cases).

    Have a look at this link [] for a good introduction to a number of mnemonic memory systems. I did one years ago (which I paid a few clams for) and I've never regretted it.

    When up to speed you can remember things like:

    • phone numbers and appointments
    • people's names and faces
    • technical manuals in word for word detail
    • articles
    • entire books
    • shuffled decks of cards

    Interestingly, memory seems to suffer from bit-rot much like software does - use it or lose it.

  • Encyclopedias. Dictionaries.

    The worst offender of all:

    *Index Cards*

    And it's all those Babylonian's fault for using their pointy little heads to figure out how to use their pointy little stylus' to make pointy little marks in wet clay.

    Just look at the historical record. Civilization and technology have been going down hill ever since.

    The causal relationship is clear.

  • People at my work kid around with me because I have 20+ windows terminals open at any given time.. Half of them are man pages, some have perl-debugger windows (to test out concepts), and many just sit in the proper directories so I don't have to cd back and forth.

    I'll have 10 emacs frames open so I can compare and contrast sections of code.

    I've arranged all the windows so as to maximize parallel viewing..

    The reason? I can't remember all the little fragments. "0xFFE08 is the search key.. Ok, what was it again? Oh hell, let me copy and paste." "I just used this function like 10 times, but I forget what the parameter order is. Let me look it up again."

    Not too long ago, I memorized pie and "e" to 50 digits as a mental exercize.. I had no problem doing so (simple repetitious exercize), but I still haven't memorized my second-phone-line, even though I look it up like twice a day for the pizza guy.. I never remember a new person's name. I scoff when someone gives me a phone number to remember, assuming I'll remember it (I politely do that when they give me a name). I can't remember the IP address that I regularly ftp to manually (I look it up every time).

    I don't carry around a PDA, but my work-station serves just as well. I carry around a date-book with all my phone numbers (which essentially plays the role of a PDA). I use to carry around a pocket notepad and pen to jot down reminders, but that got to be too combersome; I just carry my book-bag around everywhere.

    With things like cut-and paste, and high information over-load, I've trained my mind not to even try and remember.. Even the important stuff like equations I can always reference within 5 seconds.

    My friends all joke about my lack of memory, and my girlfriends have often been frustrated by it. But not a one of them would characterize me as stupid, as this article seems to imply I should be.

    I honestly believe that if I had never seen a computer in my life my memory would be many times greater than it is today. Also if I'd continued to use my bench-press, my arms would be many times their current diameter. I don't feel a loss for either of them. My mind is very tuned. I read a lot; I philosophize a lot.. I learn new computer languages regularly and can analyze with the best of them. I'm an engineer by trade, and can talk physics until the sun comes up.. Just don't ask me what your name is.

    -Michael (something or other)
  • Oups, but, as you had only learned how to memorize, you forgot to think and realize that thinking and memoriztion are two different things.

    Kids are today thought how to think. Some of them get rather bright on it. They are not thought how to memorize, or tricks for speedy head-calculation of rather trivial formulas.

    And, we need not to teach them what to think, but the mistakes we made, so they kan think of new ones.
  • Since ancient Egyptian times, our memories have been deteriorating. Why? Because with the advent of cuneiform tablets, we no longer had to remember how many bushels of barley we were owed for the barley beer we produced.

    Next thing you know, we'll be writing down stories instead of passing them down verbally from mother to daughter, as is proper. Think of the chaos that will ensue.

    I blame big industry - the mule-herders and temple-builders always trying to find ways to squeeze one last giant stone wheel out of their customers.

  • by bwalling ( 195998 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:15PM (#455050) Homepage
    I have no idea what my social security number [...] is

    Translation: I have not gone to college.
  • Once, I was at my house and I had just gotten some new memory, a 128 MB DIMM, and I went out to grab some food. When I came back, the memory was gone. Of course I didn't want to accuse it out right, but I had a feeling my computer took it. But maybe I had put it somewhere else. So I looked around, but couldn't find it. I said, "alright, who took my memory?" My suspicions were confirmed when the computer said nothing, just sat there with a humming fan and running a screensaver like nothing was going on.
    It turns out, my computer stole my memory, and I haven't really trusted it since. I opened it up and there it was, plain as day. Did it think I wouldn't notice?
  • Einstein also thought that quantum mechanics was bogus. Doesn't mean he's right. Anyway, what Einstein said was that HE never memorized anything he could look up, not that everyone should never memorize anything they could look up.
  • by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:17PM (#455055)
    You'd get a big textbook or two and carry it around in your burlap sack, go to classes and get orally quizzed on your ability to recall facts, and go home and get the snot beaten out of you if you didn't show any progress.
    You forgot the bit about walking three hours to and from school, barefoot in the snow each day. And all of it up hill, too.
  • It's a you want knowledgable dumb kids or smart ignorant kids? Both are extremes and we need to hit a happy middle.
  • they become lost, because they don't have the basic mathematical foundations to understand the more complex ones

    Oh please. Do you really mean to argue that learning to carry the one and add decimals to divide out the remainder are really prerequisites for understanding higher maths? I think a few days of lining up 5 rows of 3 blocks to understand 3 x 5 = 15 would help way more than learning the intricacies of our unfortunate notation for arithmetic.

    I don't think kids using calculators are really having their (potential) math skills ruined. I think the spectre to fear is that teachers will rely on calculators and computers to summarize every process and thereby undermine analytic skills. And while I agree that this would be something to fear, I don't think it's happening right now. As for the claim that calculator use undermines math skills, I'd like to see some research referenced; I just don't buy it as speculation.

  • I can't seem to remember facts as well as I used to. But instead I seem to remember where information is. I might not remember the details, but I can remember where to find it again, which seems more useful to me.
  • I'd agree with many of the other posters that maybe the scientist has just switched from 'old guy' to 'grumpy old guy'. But he does have at least one valid point.

    Modern technology is being designed to replace existing, decent applications. The best example is the idea of a date book. You can step through several iterations of this technology:

    1. Memory You remember everything. If you forget, you're in trouble. but you cannot lose the dates if you remember them. plus, you have full search capabilities and the ability to archive these items. Example: Your birthday.
    2. Memory plus a Document You remember a date, and write down the exact event on a piece of paper. You might have a flyer with the event, or you might just have jotted it down beforehand. The problems with this technology is that you can forget about the event, you can't really archive it as well, and you can lose the peice of paper. however, because your brain is doing the date checking, you might have problems with overlapping events. Example: Tickets to see a band, a company flyer about the xmas party.
    3. A date book This was first used long ago, but really became common amongst professionals in the 80's. 'Doing lunch' or something. The advantages of this are apparent because it's easy to cross check for interference, you can keep a log of your doings very accurately, and you can keep all your infomation in a centralized place. You can also cross reference this with an address book, filling out the complement of being able to find the place or person you're attending the function with. However the major problem for anyone with a decently updated datebook is that if you ever lose it, you are so screwed up that you never are able to accurately maintain another one, rememberin the loss of your first one. Plus, the reliance gets to be a little bad, but you remember some things just by writing them down. Example: Lunch with Bill at 12:30pm at Dorseys
    4. PDA's Hurray for complete automation, right? This all the advantages of the datebook, without worrying about loss because of modern backup technologies. However, how many of you remember things you typed over things you've physically written down? Or much less, the data that is automatically created for you, like 'First sunday of every month is date night.' Now, what happens when your brain no longer needs to remember or even interfaces with the data storage devices for your schedule? You lose those ideas, and hence have trouble with managing your own schedule. Being at the mercy of modern scheduling software, you can sometimes have a hickup or two. Is the place we want to be with technology? Example:Staff meeting every alternating Tuesday at 2pm in *insert room*.

    It's important to have technology that complements current ideals. Such as datebooks that remind us every morning what we have to do that day. Or reminds us to start thinking about paying off that AmEx bill. Without these hooks into our brain to remember things, yes we do forget about them. But with advanced enough software to remind us of the little things (such as give Sweetest day presents, attending useless meetings, or wash behind our ears) we can use our potent intellect for more advanced processing and more advanced thinking.

    For instance, i've been using my extra capacity to memorizing Counter-Strike maps. Currently I'm up to 20-30 or so maps that I know by heart. However, I'm sure Dr Takashi Tsukiyama would put me in the 'stupid as hell' catagory because I can't remember my own cell phone number because I have it stored in 5 different electronic places and on my business cards. And well, that one number I've avoided memorizing has allowed me to know where to snipe on de_jeepathon2k. Hurray for technology!

    Gonzo Granzeau

  • by bcboy ( 4794 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:20PM (#455067) Homepage
    Well, at least you got this part almost right:

    >Kids are being taught how to think, instead of what to think, out of some liberal notion that we shouldn't make their beliefs conform to our own experienced ones.

    Though to be completely correct, it would be "some liberal notion that understanding logic, reasoning, and how to do your own research is more important than being able to recite 'facts' that someone else presents to you".

    Having attended schools that were on opposite extremes of this -- a state school (where everything was "fact", "skill and drill"), and Caltech, where, everything very heavily emphasized understanding basic principles, I can say with some experience that "skill and drill", and memorizing "facts" is a total crock.

    The "tough" problems at the state school were the ones where they used variable "x", instead of variable "z" (like in the book). This would complete mystify most of the class, because they'd "learned" to recite "facts", instead of understanding principles. At Caltech, after having one problem during the term emphasizing a basic principle, you'd be expected to be able to apply that principle to novel problems for the rest of the course. You were never expect to regurgitate it as some "fact".

    There are volumes of research, now, backing this. Not only do more comprehensive teaching techniques produce students that are better able to apply their knowledge to novel problems, it turns out they also enjoy it much more, and are more interested in pursuing education.

  • I have a relevant follow up to this astutes persons comment. A long long time ago, memory loss happened too, but this time it was much more severe, and experts correctly blamed it on *writing*. Before common use of reading and writing memory systems were used often and because of them many people had massive capacity to remember. The fact that school ever forced you to remember anything and didnt teach you these ancient memory systems is a incompetence beyond belief, like teaching a ditch digger to dig with a spoon.
  • What are churches but a school for divine thought? They're both instances of the profound advancement of human thought: we, unlike animals, build temples to knowledge. Sometimes they are the science buildings your fellow students inhabit. Sometimes they are the parishes that guide schoolboard decisions. Either way, it's a beautiful thing.

    Reread what I advocated: I'm advocating a balanced approach, incorporating the best of both worlds in a magnificent compromise. Students should be taught both what to think as well as how to think. The only way they'll succeed in this dark world is if they can do both.

    You can't argue against this point, because it's tautological. The only argument you can propose is that we can't expect so much of our students and their teachers. But that's a lazy good-for-nothing cop out. I'd be embarassed to live in a society that can't expect the most of those who would weave its moral and social fabric. You're not actually arguing that, are you?

    So, to summarize everything here, school today is not about remembering answers. It's how to get answers to infinite amounts of problems.

    Kids aren't getting any answers, today. Whatever your philosophy, it's important to realize when you must throw your hands up and try something new. It's called the scientific method. You're the one advocating dogma, here.
  • by h2odragon ( 6908 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:34AM (#455072) Homepage
    I had a great argument refuting this article, but I forgot what I was gonna say...
  • 150 people is hardly a study. "No formal studies" means no studies. Premlimary findings such as these are essentially meaningless, and really we should all...

    ... um... I forgot what I was going to say.

  • Are Computers Stealing Your Memory?

    My computer just got an addition 512M of memory. I could have used that myself!
  • Yeah...we all went to college to learn to memorize our socials.
  • Sounds like this is typical of technology. The more you rely on the tech to do your job for you, the less practice you get.

    A farmer, for example, who used to plow his fields by hand or with an Ox, would be much stronger through use and practice of his muscles than today's farmer, who augments most physical labor with machinery.

    Apply this to technology. Let others think for you, and soon you forget how to think at all. This is a nice point to keep in mind for those people who like to think that our government should do as much for its people as possible. (hint!).
  • Hehe, your right but for the wrong reason. Those jobs attract the walking wounded because they are the only people who can't get better jobs. If you want good help you have to pay for it -- businessess know that, they just don't care.
  • To quote my high school football coach (no I didn't play): "Our team can't even hold the ball, let alone do any fancy passes."

    The trick is time management. Less and less of a given day is available for a given subject.. I've watched as my high school periods shrunk from an hour per class to 40 minutes. Skill and drill works very well in the military where they can't make any assumptions about your competence. They've found a system that keeps their soldiers alive, so they're going to burn it into their heads like little dogs (at least for the enlisted).

    For those that could care less about school, and for the school where the teachers are most worried about keeping the kids quiet and paying attention, getting them to complete their times tables might be enough (or equivalently, being able to spell conscience).

    Cal-tech isn't for your average high-school graduate, and it assumes a certain level of personal discipline.

    There's an alterior approach known as montasori(sp?). Which is a hands on method. It's a great motivational tool, but as I've seen from it's graduates, they tend to be behind in the amount of material they cover. A quote from a graduate, "It's a fun school, not a science school."

    In short, different methods work for different people. Those that feel confined by "skill and drill" are more than welcome to seek out more sophisticated approaches.

  • Out of the many facts you learned as a child, exactly how many of these do you remember today?

    Most all, I would say. I still remember how many legs horses have and how many legs pigs have. And that knowledge has served me well.

    Many? If this is the case, how many do your peers remember?

    My peers? I reckon they're doing ok, because my generation wasn't exposed to these abominable teaching philosophies as much as yours was. "Debate"? Sure, we had debate. We also had plenty of other things. Don't criticize what you don't understand, son.

    If things are constant, then it's only a greater sign that the system has failed us and has failed our children. We must learn from our mistakes and strive to do better than our parents did. You haven't emigrated back to where your great grandparents (my parents) came from, right? Why? Because you've learned better. We made this country the best in the world through hard effort and hard choices.

    The status quo is not a choice. You must learn to grow.
  • by TheWhiteOtaku ( 266508 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:35AM (#455087) Homepage
    Just most tech-saavy people can't remember their phone number doesn't mean they have a bad memory.

    Example: I have no idea what my social security number, blood type or insurer is. If I was ever in an accident, I'd be good as dead. However, that seems unlikely since I'm inside all day playing Counter-Strike, of which I've memorized every inch of every stage, the cost of each gun and ammo type, and the IP address of my favorite servers. My memory is now commited to useful things.

  • by Bob-K ( 29692 )
    Personal observation bears this out. When I was in college, young people were really smart. Now that I'm my forties, they seem really, really stupid.

    Funny, though, my parents said the same thing when I was young.
  • by Don Negro ( 1069 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:36AM (#455106)
    That's what they said when we added this nifty alphabet thing. "Kids today," they said, "Next thing you know, they won't be able to recite 10,000 line epics from memory."

    Yeah, like that happened...

    Don Negro

  • by Pinball Wizard ( 161942 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @01:23PM (#455130) Homepage Journal
    How many of us have had professors who wanted us to do math problems by hand because calculators made solving the problems too easy?

    Or made us code stuff that was already in the STL or an existing library?

    I can see the point for learning something once, but these examples usually existed in classes where you were not allowed to use advanced calculators or the STL or(name your specific example here) throughout the entire class!

    And they give the lamest excuses for making us hold onto the way they learned to do something! "If you get stuck on a desert island, you'll be glad you learned how to use a slide rule." Yeah, right.

    If humanity is to progress, we must learn things once, and learn how not to reinvent the wheel. The skill we should be learn is to find out whether or not a problem has been solved before - if so apply the solution, and if not, be able to use our wit, intelligence, or if those are lacking, a smarter persons wit and intelligence to solve the problem.

    Our society is getting an order of magnitude more complex each generation. We need to have computers do our grunt thinking for us if we are to keep up with advancing technology.

  • by devphil ( 51341 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:49PM (#455135) Homepage
    Einstein said that you should never memorize what you can look up.

    Remember Sean Connery as Indiana Jones' father in the most recent movie? Indiana asks him something, Dad says it's in his diary and he doesn't know, Indiana disbelievingly asks him if he can't remember, Dad summons up his dignity and replies, "I wrote it down so that I wouldn't have to remember."

    Or my favorite quote from Alan Turing (paraphrased): Programming should always be exciting, because as soon as something becomes boring or repetitive, it should be turned over to the machine.

    I've automated so many of my sysadmin duties that I can't remember how to do them manually anymore. :-) Frees up more time for programming.

  • by Yokaze ( 70883 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @12:52PM (#455144)
    I think the main reason for this is, that the elder generation measures the younger generation by their knowledge, or more exactly their kind of knowledge.
    In their eyes, the younger generation doesn't know much and is considered as dumb.
    But considering IT, one may notice, that this measure is not correct. There are several student who know as much as their teachers about computer, and even more.

    Nevertheless, the problem shown by this study is not neglectable. I experienced something alike to this myself.
    For quite some time, at school we weren't allowed to use calculators in school. Being quite fond of math, I aquired quite some skill in mental arithmetic. In the last years of school, we were allowed to use calculators, and one day, I noticed, how bad I had become in mental arithmetics (I forgot my calculator).

    One could say, of what use is that skill. And of course, this didn't make me necessarily dumb. (At least, I hope so.)
    The problem is, the brain has to be trained.
    So, if your not using your brain for calculating or memorising, one should have an alternative mental "dumbbell".

    AFAIK, the mean-IQ even has risin over the decades.
  • by adimarco ( 30853 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:39AM (#455151) Homepage

    Um, basics of logic []? Correlation is not causation? Aren't scientists of all people supposed to know these things?

    Maybe it is? []

  • by "Zow" ( 6449 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @02:30PM (#455203) Homepage

    A couple has another couple over for drinks. The wife starts telling this other couple about how her husband was reading this interesting article on how to improve his memory, she then goes to the kitchen to get some ice.

    The other couple ask the husband to tell them more. He says, "It's really interesting: it's all about making associations between common things and the thing you're trying to remember."

    "Really? Well, how well does it work?"

    "It's great, I don't lose any information anymore. I can always figure out what I need to remember."

    "So what magazine did you read this in?"

    "Well, this is a good chance to demonstrate how the method works because I don't recall right off the top of my head. What's the name of that flower? You know, the one you give on Valentine's day. . ."

    "You mean a rose?"

    "That's it!" The man turns to the kitchen, "Rose, what was the name of that magazine. . ."

  • by dsplat ( 73054 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:42AM (#455207)
    If people are no longer exercising their memories at all because they can rely on PDAs and other tools, certainly their memories will atrophy. However, I know a significant number of people who use various tools to keep track of large bodies of information that has no intrinsic significance in order to free themselves to learn things that are useful to them.

    As an example, I stopped trying to remember my parents' phone number the first time they moved after I left home. The only importance that sequence of digits has is a way to reach them. But I still take the time to remember the names of their friends and neighbors at each new home. I've met several of them. They are important. I don't bother remembering things that I can look up when I need them, but I give more attention to things I may need to know when I can't consult my secondary storage.
  • by perdida ( 251676 ) <thethreatproject ... minus herbivore> on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:44AM (#455223) Homepage Journal
    (attention deficit disorder) Diagnosed, but it is simply a subcategory of a whole brace of culturally and biologically derived symptoms. When I was a kid I sure wished I had a laptop and a PDA, so I could read what I wrote, catch everything the teachers said, and not drift off.

    That stuff sure helps me now. My brain is so active now because I can stay consistent on something for an extended period of time, without having a teacher to watch over me to do it!

    What's wrong with shaping my environment to increase my effectiveness? And who would think that they are the only person who efficiently uses these tools, either? Most people who invest in these tools and continue to use them must find a use for them.

    Maybe it's video games that breed stupidity? Some marketer deliberately harnessing eyeballs? Screw video games, lets focus on educational technology. My attention span certainly improved when I figured out all the useful, profitable, and interesting things I could do with a computer.

    Wouldn't you think everyone else's would, too?


  • by twitter ( 104583 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @01:40PM (#455271) Homepage Journal
    Your right, but I forgot why.
  • by Chuck Flynn ( 265247 ) on Monday February 05, 2001 @11:46AM (#455288)
    It's not just kids' memories, though they're the ones who are feeling the brunt of it, having spent the most time in the environment our society has created for them and for us. People everywhere have been experiencing deteriorating memories, and I'd say it has to do with how we teach them in school.

    It used to be that you'd learn facts in school. You'd get a big textbook or two and carry it around in your burlap sack, go to classes and get orally quizzed on your ability to recall facts, and go home and get the snot beaten out of you if you didn't show any progress. You had to learn how to recall trivial things, because it was the only way to survive and prosper. The best minds of my day were like that.

    Today? The emphasis is on task-based learning and goal-oriented teaching. Kids are being taught how to think, instead of what to think, out of some liberal notion that we shouldn't make their beliefs conform to our own experienced ones. It sounds great on paper, but in reality, kids are not only failing to learn how to think, they don't even know what to think about anymore. This is why you see much greater emphasis on arts and other trivial applications of human talents, instead of engineering and classical studies. For better or worse, we're breeding a generation of mental invalids.

    You can't teach a whole generation to drive society by encouraging them to feel about driving. You have to give them rigid rules and test them on their grasp thereof. And if they don't conform, then you make them conform. It's not totalitarianism; it's just common sense.

    What's needed is a better combination of the two methods. We should insist that our children learn both what and how to think. Only that way can we insure that the new generations can learn from my generation's mistakes and fulfill our promises of greatness.

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