Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Software: The Death of Memory?

http://wondergressive.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Neocortex-and-Memory.jpg Last week my Catholic historical theology professor quipped, “Ten years ago I could tell who was Protestant and who was Catholic sitting in my classes because the Protestants knew their Bible. Now I can tell by who has the best Bible Software.”

I use and benefit from my Bible Software daily, but that’s no excuse for neglecting regular and repeated reading and memorization of Scripture. The sad truth is that Bible Software has made students dependent on their machines rather than their memory for knowing and accessing the scriptures with speed and accuracy. This reminds me of Plato’s famous criticism of books as a means of destroying memory.

One of my seminary professors was fond of citing Luther’s encouragement to his students, “Read scripture regularly and repeatedly until you become a fit concordance.” I could not find the source of the quote, but his point stands. I am no Luddite and I have no illusions that Bible software is going away. What, if anything, can be done to encourage students to know the scriptures by heart rather than simply relying on computers to access them quickly? Or is this not really that important? Am I just old-fashioned? What is lost when memory gives way to software?


David Fish said...

I agree 110%, and as a software user approaching 60 years of age, this resounds with the caution of Nicholas Carr (Google is making me Stupid) and John Dyer (From the Garden to the City), a la McLuhan and Postman.

Anthony Le Donne said...

I tend to err on the side of Luddism, but I wonder whether social memory theory helps a bit with this one.

One of the repeated mantras of memory theorists is that memory is almost always cued by the external. Whether it be a smell, or a book, or our friends/family, memory is as much "out there" as it is "in here".

I haven't thought a great deal about this, but I wonder if computer software is just one more external voice in the conversation.

That said, I do believe that students are less inclined to learn languages than they used to be.


dannyyencich said...

I think there is also something to hearing and seeing Scripture, as in oral performance, that can (and probably ought to) be appropriated in both the pulpit and the classroom. Cognitively-speaking, there is just a different process to aural/visual reception than simply visual alone, as is the case of silent reading. Different parts of the brain are activated and, from the limited research I've done, it seems that mixing aural and visual experience actually acts as an aid memory in lab settings.

It is entirely anecdotal, but I can say that my memory of particular NT documents, like Mark and Galatians, has been aided both by being an audience-member in live performances as well as being a performer of portions of the texts myself. I think there is something to performance, both as a heuristic tool for studying ancient texts as well as for a teaching device that aids in memory. Plus, as a good ol' Restoration Churcher myself, there's something inherently pleasing about taking up one of the practices of "the New Testament church" in preaching and teaching. ;-)

Nick E. said...

Taking a hint from the Aquinas reading: "For things are likewise recorded in material books in order to aid the memory." (Summa I.Q24.1)

I think the question is whether or not the software has itself become the dominant form of the text; whether it is no longer the external voice (anthony's comment) or the aid (Aquinas quotation) that points back to the material text. I would argue the software/digital text is replacing the material text in many readers' minds. It's a huge shift in book technology.