Memory Lane

We were up in Akron today for a funeral service for an old and dear family friend.  It gave Kish, Cath and me a chance to visit the Webner clan lived in before we moved to Columbus, see some fondly remembered acquaintances again, and visit Portage Country Club, the Tudor-style building where we had countless family gatherings — including weddings, showers, and birthday celebrations — over the years.

I had to take a look at the “Board Room,” pictured above, where Grandpa Neal hosted annual luncheons that featured lots of revelry, Baked Alaska for dessert, and Grandpa’s remarks in which he gave a recap of the year and, speaking totally from memory, recounted the highlights for everyone in attendance.  I looked at the table and thought that, if we were to try to convene that gathering now, many of the chairs would be empty and those of us still around would look a lot grayer and more bowed than we once did.  As we left Portage Country Club, I wondered if this was the last time I would pass through its big wooden doors.

They say that funerals are a time for remembering, and our visit to Akron today certainly set me to thinking back to old times.  It was a wistful experience, but I enjoyed taking a little trip down memory lane.

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Employing The Email Selfie

Last night I was having dinner with a colleague.  At one point during the meal, when we were talking about something work-related, we both apologetically pulled out our iPhones and started thumbing away at the keyboards.

We weren’t being rude — at least, we weren’t trying to be.  We were just sending emails to ourselves so we could be sure to remember something that we had been discussing.  Otherwise, there was a pretty good chance that, by the end of the meal, that great (or even just marginally significant) thought — whatever it was — would have totally fled the jurisdiction, and we would both be racking our brains later trying to remember what it was we were supposed to remember.

ios_android_typing_tips_bullet_em_dash-100538034-origThese are the moments for which the “email selfie” — shall we call it the “elfie”? — is made.  You just pull out your iPhone, call up your own email address, tap in a few cryptic words sufficient to remind yourself of whatever it is you want to remember, and hit send.  A second later you get that satisfying, confirming phone vibration that tells you that you’ve received your email selfie, and you can continue whatever it is you’re doing with a brain unburdened by the need to remember whatever it is you’re trying to remember.  It’s a liberating feeling.

At first, I was kind of embarrassed by my need to resort to the email selfie.  Now I prefer to think that, rather than a leading indicator of declining mental faculties, it’s more a technological upgrade of the reminder note concept that people have used since the ancient Egyptians invented papyrus for that specific purpose.  Whether it’s post-it notes, “to-do” lists, Franklin Day Planners, erase boards on the refrigerator at home, or little slips of paper left in a place where you know you’re going to see them (another technique I’ve frequently employed), human beings have long employed memory aids.  Sending emails to yourself is the logical next step.  And sure, you could use the “notes” function on the iPhone, but I’ve never used it — whereas I always check my emails.  Sending the email selfie is a surer route to recollection.

These days, I’m one of my most faithful correspondents.

Learning, And Remembering

What is a better way to learn from a presentation, and remember its contents:  writing notes by hand on a piece of paper, or taking notes on a laptop?  Taking notes by hand is more cumbersome, whereas adept typists can use laptops to take notes at close to a word-for-word transcription level — but does that make laptops better for comprehension and retention?

Recent research concludes that taking notes by hand enhances learning.  Why?  Researchers think that because writing is much slower than typing, students hoping to capture content must filter, summarize, and focus on the key points as they take notes, and those additional mental steps in the process have the effect of better engraving the content into their memories.  Students taking notes on a laptop, in contrast, try to take down everything the speaker says, as if they are just another cog in a recording device, and therefore the words don’t have as much impact. 

IMG_2446Interestingly, the study showed that the comprehension advantage is reflected not only on tests given immediately after the learning experience, but also on tests taken weeks later.  The theory is that students who review their own handwritten notes are given more effective memory cues than students who simply review the verbatim transcription.

These results don’t surprise me.  Handwritten notetakers must be active listeners who are engaged in the presentation, and active listeners always capture more content.  But there is more to the notetaking advantage than that.  I think the physical act of writing enhances comprehension and recollection because your brain has to be reading and thinking about meaning as it controls the hand that is writing the note.  Multiple senses are involved:  you hear the words being spoken, you move your hand to write them, you see your writing on the page, and you speak the words in your inner voice.  If you take additional steps — like adding stars or underlines to highlight key points — the cognitive impact of the process is that much greater.   

I’ve always been a notetaker; even now, I like to write myself notes to remind myself of tasks rather than typing them into a notes application on my computer.  For me, at least, the physical actions tie directly into the mental process and help me remember.  Plus, I like the tactile sensation of crumpling up notes after I’ve completed a task and throwing them away.