Here is something I often think about.
We all know that many early civilizations relied on Oral Traditions. Since it used to be that books were written in a time consuming manner, books were scarce. As a result, society compensated by transmitting information through an oral tradition that was based on memorization.
Today, such a feat is considered remarkable. Take Judaism for example. How could an individual memorize the entire Bible, as well as the Mishna and even the Talmud? We assume that these people have photographic memories and have a super-ability to memorize things accurately and completely. After all, I can only count on my hands the number of people today who I know who have the bible memorized, and they have a unique skill that other simply don't have.
However, I have a different theory. While it is true that there are some individuals who can do have a more acute sense of memorization, the human mind is more remarkable than we allow. In today's world, we are bombarded with so much information that we are constantly trying to find ways to access and store it. With the creation of the internet and digital storage, we have an even greater capability to access greater amounts of information, and a greater ability to store that information with the possibility to retrieve that information on command. I posit that since we have access to more information about the world, we constantly "forget" specific details since we know we can always "remember" those details at any time by looking them up.
Moreover, I also think that we can remember things when they are repeated to us many times. For example, consider music. When we hear songs over and over again, we begin to memorize the lyrics. I wouldn't be suprised if the amount of lyrics we have memorized would be equal to the amount of information contained in the bible. The melodies help us remember the words (consider how easy it is to sing the alphabet in order to figure out what letter follows another. And if you don't sing it, do you at least keep the same melodic rhythm?). Just as there were devices in oral traditions that helped people remember the stories.
When I was talking this idea over with my sister, she pointed out that memorization is also a skill. The more you train that skill, the better you will be able to memorize things. This goes along with my idea above that if we didn't have the ability to "remember" things by looking them up, then we could actually care to develop this skill more.
Therefore, I am less impressed when I think about Oral Traditions. Yes it is true that there are people with photographic memories that can memorize things after seeing things a few times (or even once), but I think anyone can memorize things, even whole books (or lines for a movie/play). We just have to make a conscious effort to memorize and repeat the information over and over again(which is hard because it is easier and less time consuming to just "forget" it and access it later).
What do you think?