Is it More Important to Memorize Information or Just Know How to Use It?


Before the Internet, people had to memorize a lot of technical and detailed information for either school or their profession. Back then, information was not readily accessible at our fingertips not just because of the Internet but also due to the arrival of mobile devices, specifically cell phones. The Internet was just one part, the informational network that gives people information instantly. When coupled with the cell phone, now you have access to all of that information all of the time. 

Dial-up Days: A Quick Look at How Information Access was Slow and Clunky Back Then

Even in the mid 90s, I remember accessing the web via a 56k modem and using dial-up. If you remember those days, Prodigy was an ISP (Internet Service Provider). You had to call a number to access the Internet and it would tie up your landline. Your modem would make this scratchy noise connecting to the Internet. You had to run an ethernet cable from your computer to your phone. I have to do another post just the dial-up days. I bring this up because you had to physically go to a computer to access information. Connecting was tricky and there were no cell phones back then.

Memorizing vs. Utilizing Information

Slow information access meant that you had to be able to recall it off the top of your head. You could not always access that information right away at your fingertips if you needed it right away. Not only were things slower back then, but there was not as much information available as there is now. So this is why memorization of very specific technical details was required back then. 

Information Memorization

Some examples of very technical information that had to be memorized back then was:

  • Constants/Variables
  • Formulas
  • Unit Conversion

Memorizing technical details is very impressive. 

Memorization Without Understanding

Did you remember back in school that you would just memorize formulas without really understanding what they mean? You just had something like A + B = C. This simplistic “formula” is just for an example, real formulas are really complicated and contain several variables and constants. Just think about having to take a test where you had to memorize however many formulas. You then spent your time just memorizing them. Unfortunately, not enough time was spent on understanding them. You just knew that if you had A and B, then you could calculate C. A lot of times, it was like that. We just wanted the result C. The thing is, C is really what the time should be spent on. What is C and what can you do with it? When you know what C is, then you can figure out what you can do with it. What action can you take now C is known.

Memorizing for the Sake of Memorization

This is a good example of not just memorizing information just for the sake of memorization. Yes, we need to remember some things, but the Internet will always have that information for you. Focus on how the result of the information’s inputs (A + B) can be used. The human mind can only hold so much information before you start to forget due to the lack of use. Do not force yourself to memorize information, no point today when you have it all on your phone now. Some information is so crucial that if you forget one specific detail, your calculation or just the result of using that information could be off.  That is why we should not worry so much about having to memorize information. The more important part is how the information is used. 

Information Utilization

At the end of the day, we really are just using information to make a decision in our lives and get our day moving. That is all really. We need not overcomplicate things with having to remember so much when we really need to get things done with only 24 hours a day. So the Internet really helps us streamline our time since we just look up information now and use it to make decisions without time wasted memorizing stuff.

The result of memorization is information that can be used to make a decision. So in the formula earlier, A + B = C, A and B are inputs used to calculate C. A and B are the parts that we no longer memorize because in larger formulas, there could be several more inputs used to calculate a result. This is important to know because no matter how many inputs are involved in calculating a result, there is always one result. That result is what we are always aiming for because the result is what leads to decision making. 

Busy Days Full of Decision Making & Memorizing Obsolete Information

As we try to make it through our day, we need to constantly rely on information to make decisions. Our lives become busier every day. There is always something to do and there is never a dull moment. Keep your day going and never stop and worry about memorizing something that might even change. Looking stuff up all of the time ensures that we have the latest data. Information obsoletes quickly so memorization is very difficult in today’s ever changing world. So this is really interesting to see how back then, information was not as intertwined and memorizing was better when information would not change as fast. So the web has moved society from information memorization to utilization.

The Web’s Shift Toward Information Utilization

We know that people are using information more than memorizing because of how quickly information changes every day. So this sounds great right? We can access information whenever we need it. We no longer have to worry about memorizing anything anymore. We instant information to make our daily decisions. This shift or rather change is a funny thing. Any change in life comes with pros and cons. I have only touched upon the pros of this shift. What about the cons? Surely, life is better now right? Our busier lives need access to the latest information all of the time. Like I said, you cannot have one without the other. One of the most glaring cons of this shift is that we now make better decisions that produce better results faster and quicker than before. No pressure right? I will now delve into how information utilization requires us to be better decision makers.

Faster Information Leads to Better Decision Making, This is Better Right?

Better decision making means higher productivity, less time wasted memorizing obsolete information. So the need to memorize information is gone. Are we really better off now? I guess it depends on how you look at it. This just comes along with the territory with the advent of the web. That is why I said earlier, you cannot have the good without the bad. This is all part of society. Those who evolve, thrive. That is just simple human nature. I am just using my background as a data professional to illustrate my perspective on this. Having to consistently produce good decisions which leads to higher productivity can be stressful right? What can be done when we have too much information and more is expected of us?

Information Overload: Too Much Information At Once?

We now are able to pool information from different sources together to create even better decisions than before. Now, there is so much information out there and we need to know what is good and what is bad. Too much information can be difficult to deal with because it has to be sifted, verified and good to use. Having to go through this process is time-consuming. Imagine just getting a whole bunch of emails and letters and having to go through them one by one. Do you even need them all? It is now time to organize the data in a way that it is clear, concise and easy to digest. 

Organizing Information: Good vs. Bad Information

So how do we know what information is good or bad? First, we need to keep data that is good, accurate and reliable. Check the source of the information and see what people are saying about it. Is the source reputable and credible? Is the information sound or is there something off about it. If the information is irrelevant then just toss it. Bad information tends to be incomplete and is missing something crucial. That crucial piece of data can be an ID number or a source of where the data came from. If you cannot uniquely identify what this data is or cannot tell where it came from, toss it, pure and simple. Why? If you have so much data to go through, some bad records of data will not mean anything in the long run. We want good and clean data. Having a bad record of data mixed in with good data can affect the results that the data produces. That can then lead to some poor decision making.

Constant vs. Variable Data: The Case for Memorization

I know that I said earlier that memorizing data was not as important as it once was. It still is not, but nothing in life is black and white. Everything has a gray area to it. So I want to bring up the concept of constant versus variable data. When I say constant data, I mean data that never changes. Information that stays the same forever can be memorized. Why? If the information never changes, then you never have to worry about having to “re-learn” or update yourself. I would say in those cases, yes we still can memorize some data. 

That compares starkly with variable data. Variable data, or data that changes over time would be more pointless to memorize and this type of data is what leads to information overload. Not only is it the quantity of information that we need to use, but also the possibility of that information always changing. So now we have lots of information and when that information changes, how it affects the other pieces of information when it comes to our decision making. Everything keeps moving and we are trying to gather it all together. When pieces are moving, how can we collect it all when there is too much going on at once? This is why information can be stressful because it is changing too much and it affects other information at the same time. This is why organization is so important.

Information is Changing Way Too Fast!

How can we keep up with ever changing data? Yes, I mentioned that we organize. However, there is still a lot of data out there. I mean just take a step back and realize that we are human. We can only do so much. Our minds can only process so much at once. Having to deal with all of this is not something that is supposed to overwhelm us. Just take what we need and leave the excess alone. This is life, things are always changing around us. How can we handle everything with only 24 hours available a day? You can only do so much. Basically, it is up to each and every one of us on how complicated and complex  we want our lives to be.  Complicated lives need to deal with more changing data. Simpler lives, not so much. If you do not want to deal with so much information everyday, then just simplify your life. 

Step Back and Reflect: Reducing the Reliance on Too Much Information

Take this time to reflect and really see what is important and what is not. We all need to take some time off and do some self-evaluation. Are we going in the direction that we want to? Or are we just doing the same things everyday because they need to be done? Finding the right direction in life to make us happy means that we really do need to stop and rethink our lives. Can we streamline everything and reduce our dependence on relying on so much information? These are the questions that I pose to you. Really think about what you can do to make your life better. The daily hustle and bustle should not stop us and say, “Wait, why am I doing all of this? Is there something better out there?”.

Information is Just Sitting There Waiting for it to be Used

The good thing about the web today is that we can pick and choose what information we need. Back then, we actually had encyclopedias and whatever information was in there is all that you had. If you want to know more or something else, you had to search elsewhere, which was hard. It was not like you could just keep searching online and gather so much information that you could pick whatever you want. With limited information back then, we made due but you see how back then had issues too. The past or the future, there will always be issues. The issues just change but we need to take away some lessons from this.

So What Is the Lesson Here?

The lesson here is that we have the ability to navigate life and make choices based on what information we need. We need to avoid all of the noise and clutter that can bog us down and distract us. I like to share my past because it provides a perspective that is drastically different from today. You just had to be there and live it. Everything was slower back then, less information. We had to put in more effort to deliver with what little we had. Today there is so much information, organizational skills are crucial. As you see, back then or today, both periods of time had their issues.

I hope that you have a new perspective on information and how its role has changed over the years. People will always ask, “Was it better back then”? Tough to say. I think that if people could choose, they would take some things from the past and some things from today. We always want the best of both worlds. As humans, we do not like to compromise because we literally want it all. Let’s have our cake and eat it too, right?

Looks like we are coming to a close on another post. I hope that you found something interesting that might help you with your life. Again, I enjoyed sharing my perspective on information and how things have changed since then. Who knows, you might remember those 56k dial-up days with me. Those were some fun times. Looking back and seeing the changes are always fun.