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Rickter Scale: Thanks for the memory muscle

The Rickter Scale is a weekly column

Rick Stiebel/Columnist

Riverside four, one, oh, seven, seven.

That was our home phone number, the first one I memorized growing up in Ville St. Laurent, an exploding suburb of formerly farmland outside of Montreal and truth be told, far removed from any views of a river.

Folks back then had at least a dozen numbers memorized before they turned 10, mostly a collection of frequently called friends. The total expanded like a Slinky sliding down a long flight of stairs with each passing year, until you went off to work and had to deposit another whack of numbers to the memory bank. I wish I could call Mike’s Submarines, who delivered the goods to your door long before any marketing geniuses came up with the concept of Skip the Dishes. Antonio’s Pizza, where all dressed meant pepperoni, mushroom and green pepper, was another frequent flyer that I wish was still just a dial away. I called my mother from Expo 67 the first time I used a push button phone, and she was equally amazed by the new technology. Those who remember the archaic black rotary versions still hold a grudge against phone numbers that contained eights, nines and zeros.

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There were conservatively at least 50 numbers that didn’t require perusing a five-pound phone book by the time I moved to Victoria, so I had to stretch my memory muscle a little more to accommodate a slate of new digits.

Fast forward to the age of the iPhone, and I’ll wager you would have a hard time rounding up anyone under 20 years of age capable of rattling off three numbers they tap into regularly without checking their screen. Whether that’s a good thing or a sad reflection of the state of education is open to debate. There’s an argument to be made, however, that the shift from memory function in school has created kids that can no longer do basic math without a calculator. Put that to the test next time you’re using that old-fashioned method of paying with cash at the counter. If your total is $11.15, hand the clerk a $20 bill, a toonie and a quarter let the games begin.

I am, however, a little jealous of youngsters who have grown up with the world at their fingertips thanks to a machine they can cradle in the palm of their hand. Anyone who survived the living hell before TV remote controls can relate. Still haven’t purchased a portable phone yet, much to the chagrin of my friend, George, who berates me regularly about it whenever he wants to send a text. My reluctance is steeped in a fear of technology dating back to 1991, when I was outed on the first day of journalism school as the only one in my class who had never worked on a computer. Former colleagues referred to me as the “Fred Flintstone of the computer age” whenever I pulled out my Blackberry, a piece of paper containing their cell numbers that I still keep folded in my wallet. It has George’s number as well, in case I ever need to text him to say I just bought a cell phone.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.


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