Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Memorize or Look Up?

"When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles.
The other students in the class interrupted me: 'We *know* all that!'
'Oh,' I say, 'you *do*? Then no *wonder* I can catch up with you so fast after you've had four years of biology.'
They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes."
Richard Feynman,
"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character"

So this is the question today, how much should we expect students and people in general to memorize? With smartphones and the Net, most information can be looked up quite quickly, so why should we memorize?

Right now I'm studying for the Security+ exam, because the government has mandated that everyone involved with their networks and IT have security training so they can prevent future breaches like what happened to OPM (Office of Personnel Management), or the White House, or US Investigation Services​, or NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)​, or the State Department​, or you get the picture. This is a great idea, we should have some minimum level of understanding. However, a big part is knowing the acronyms so you can know the questions and/or answers. These are things I can look up in seconds so it seems kind of crazy.

However, it is a hard puzzle. Memorization is a good discipline and having some knowledge at your fingertips is invaluable. Mostly I'd argue for setting a minimum level and letting the rest come as needed on the job. There is information overload to deal with, too.

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