A 140 character summary: Memory is a skill - not a talent. It can be improved, honed and tested. And, like any good skill, it just needs some seriously hard work.
I always breezed through school, and that was largely to do with an advantage at an early age: my nan sat me down when I was 5 and helped me. By the age of 6 I knew everything that we covered and was always a bit ahead. As a result I was revising while everyone else was learning, meaning I had it memorised by the time they were getting their head around it. Straight A student.
I hated school; it seemed like pointless rote memorisation of pointless facts. But a command of varied facts is, in the eyes of society, what makes people intelligent. Yet no-one pays any attention to the art of memory.
Similarly, many of the society’s best characteristics are simple feats of memory. How to show your interest and be polite? Remember the other person’s name, what they do, what they love and why. How to be reliable? Be punctual and remember events. Etc.
Being able to absorb information is, I would argue, probably the single most valuable skill a person can develop.
This book was written by a journalist who became fascinated with the American Memory Championships – full of feats of ‘incredible’ memorisation – and decided to have a go himself. Through reading, interviewing and – crucially – working his arse off he ended up becoming the American champion. He has very generously explained how he did it.
The key point: we’re naturally bad at memorising unconnected facts; it’s never been an evolutionary necessity. *But* by changing the way you store the memory – using our evolved skill for remembering locations and taboo subjects – you will remember things better. So, instead of rote learning you create a trail of symbols littered throughout a memory palace: a place you know well.
Well worth reading: demonstrates a life skill with huge potential.
Things I noted down
Memory palaces. Start with the ancients.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien: I used the technique to learn J. R. R. Tolkien's full name 2 months ago. I will likely never forget it. (P.s. Ronald McDonald on a toilet [the John] desperately scrabbling at a slightly crushed toilet roll).
Worth putting in the effort to create a system for numbers, dates, names etc?
The best memorisers have a filthy imagination.