This past weekend my husband and I got into a debate about whether the demise of handwriting in school was a bad thing or not. Basically, he felt that if kids are regularly using laptops for notes they weren’t engaging in the learning process and memorizing the material the same way as if they wrote it and this was a negative. He felt students should learn both skills and we shouldn’t deny students the ability to think with writing along with thinking with computers. I felt it was neither a good nor bad thing, it was simply an evolution from the focus being on memorization of material through writing to being on knowing how to use computers and find information rather than retaining it ourselves. I likened it to the shift from oral history to written history. I would imagine once that occurred the skill to memorize an epic novel’s worth of material and regurgitate it to a group was less prized. Same goes for the relationship between writing (as in handwriting) and the ability to simply locate information rather than have written it ourselves.
There are many articles on this, of course, here’s a sample and another. The second one deals more with education in the internet age. Though, surprisingly, it’s not an issue that necessarily arose with Millennials. Rather, there’s an inkling of the ”issue” with Gen X’ers learning/working styles in this article from 1997 on how to deal with them in the workplace.
This debate got me thinking about memory and searching for the apropriate metaphor for what both sides of my husband’s and my debate define: the changing nature of memory in our society. I don’t need to remember everything I’ve learned if I can look it up on my phone when needed. Does this make memory more short term, more fleeting? I was toying with the idea of glass as the metaphor, perhaps to demonstrate memory’s fragility.
But there’s another element of memory that smart phones have changed: the creation of them. As long as I have my phone, I don’t have to be anywhere, such as a doctor’s waiting room or a bar while I wait to meet up with friends, without a screen to stare at, to entertain myself, to catch up with others. Now, I don’t have those times where I simply sit and ponder, they are no longer forced on me. If I find myself on a park bench, I’m not people watching and thinking, I’m playing with my phone. What is the right metaphor for this type of commentary on memory. Does “glass” still work?
Perhaps it does, but not as a metaphor…it may in fact serve as a lesson. Expert glass makers are amazing artists and craftsmen. I stumbled on video of Lino Tagliepietra and William Gudenrath from the Corning Museum. Both glass masters use glass as a means of exploring both the world around them and history. They are making something new while acknowledging its connection to to the past and other worldly creations.
They are using craftsmanship to remember and feel. Perhaps this tells us that a good means of acknowledging memory is to explore material connections to the past. We don’t necessarily need to put down the phone while waiting to get a tooth pulled, as long as we connect ourselves to who we are and where we came from in meaningful, artful, and perhaps, concrete ways.