Has remembering numbers gone the way of the dinosaurs?

old style dial up telephone

Do you have a number in your head that you can’t forget? Say, your home phone number when you were a kid or the phone number of your first girlfriend/boyfriend? Perhaps you even learnt your tax file number by heart? Or possibly your Centrelink number. (Surely someone out there has!)

I have the strangest number – it is 109970x – the number I had to recite to collect a pay cheque from the Education Department. I had won a studentship for university though I had to work as a teacher for three years after studying. The studentship came with a small allowance paid every fortnight by cheque. But the clincher was that you had to collect it in person, by reciting your unique identifying number.

My friends and I would hike across the then open fields of Monash University heading towards the Teacher’s College on the edge of the campus, collect our cheque and swoop on the nearest bank to finally become solvent again. Then we would celebrate with a good coffee in the upstairs café, as opposed to the cheap place downstairs, and sometimes an iced coffee scroll if we felt especially frivolous.

Oh, how our needs and tastes have changed and yet I look back fondly at that time. I was forced to use my memory and forced to walk my body to a destination that rewarded me with moulah.

Today I would be hard pressed to remember any numbers, especially phone numbers. I live in fear of losing my phone or having it stolen. How will I contact anyone when I can’t remember their number? I have resorted to filing most of them in a little black book that sits on the study shelf. Heaven help me if I forget where the book is. 

Now the numbers that dominate our lives are endless passwords. Give up your life to Google Chrome and it will remember the intricate passwords it has created for you. No longer will you have a website spit back at you that your password creating skills are lousy and to try again (the tone is always one of reprimand and sarcasm).

Now, Google will do it for you as long as you don’t mind Big Brother watching you. Or you can use a password manager, as long as you remember the one key password.

Have we become lazy? Are we failing to exercise our brains anymore? When we were kids there was a great deal of rote learning emphasised in the classroom. We learnt our times table by heart, endless chanting of two twos are four, echoing down the hallways of primary schools.

We learnt poems written by famous Australians. I Love a Sunburnt Country is seared into the psyche of all those over-60s out there. But now of course, rote learning has gone out of fashion, gone the way of the dinosaur, and we rely on devices to do all the work for us.

And it’s not just learning numbers that we have relegated to the rubbish bin of history, it is also facts, information. We now just throw out the line, ‘I’ll google that’ – to find what we want, to jog our memory or just be plain lazy.

Will we ever really learn things by heart in the future? Are we risking atrophying our brain if we fail to use it to remember things? Or is my questioning a sign of being an old fogey with a redundant outlook on life?

Would you be able to recite the phone numbers of key friends and family? Your tax file number? Medicare number? Or is remembering that simply unnecessary now. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Also read: Ultimate guest list: Who would you invite to dinner?

Written by Dianne Motton

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