I listen to a great deal of public radio nowadays. I especially like interesting stories. The Story aired a segment about a woman who had never learned to read. The entire hour goes through this woman’s struggles without knowing how to read. To this woman being illiterate was a burden; her world did not expand beyond her memory. She had memorized recipes and directions to and from different places; she could never venture to a new area without running the risk of becoming completely lost.
This got me to thinking about Navajos and memory. A majority of the population didn’t know how to read and write beyond about a half a century ago. Before having a means to record or read a language there was simply memory… and we were quite good at it. Think of songs and stories in our culture… there is constant repetition. These, and many other things, are set up in our culture specifically as such so we can remember them.
I have also been reading a book about Watson, the computer that competed against two human Jeopardy champions. Ken Jennings, one of the champions and a fellow BYU alumni, made a comment on knowledge and memory that I’ve thought more about recently… we are outsourcing our memory to computers. He’s right…the immediate availability of information via the Internet is making us rely less on our own memory. Scary. The internet is wonderful, no doubt. But it allows the excuse, “Why memorize facts if I could look it up on the Internet?”
The rules of the Navajo language are pretty complex, at least this is what I constantly hear. I wonder if it seems that way because this generation does not commit as much information to memory anymore.