Can't make a call without digging into your smartphone's contact list? As we all grow more and more reliant on technology to do the heavy lifting, Wang Feng is using more and more of his brain.
Wang Feng (Courtesy World Memory Championships)The 21-year-old winner of the 2011 World Memory Championships shattered his own record last week, recalling 300 of 400 spoken numbers. That's over 100 more than he previously recalled.
"I've spent three months preparing for this championship," he said. "Each day I spend 5-6 hours practicing. Actually, each year, I spend two to three months preparing for competitions."
While the Memory Championships might not be a riveting spectator sport, it's a pretty intense competition for the cerebellum. Attendees compete in a number of mind-bending competitions, such as memorizing 30 packs of playing cards in an hour, putting over 90 faces to names in 14 minutes and recalling 400 numbers spoken in one second intervals.
This year's event, which took place in China, hosted competitors from 20 countries. As you might expect, young people tend to perform better than older ones. The faces and names test, for instance, was won by a 16-year-old girl from Indonesia.
But Feng stole the show. In addition to breaking the spoken number record, he set new marks for how many random numbers one could memorize in five minutes (500) and one hour (2660).
Now in its 20th year, the tournament has been growing steadily -- and according to past winners, it's consistently gotten harder. The key to winning, they say, isn't book smarts. It's finding creative ways to retain more information.
"I think it's made me more creative, it's opened up my brain, it's given me more self-belief, something I never had when I was at school," says Dominic O'Brien, an eight-time champion. "I was diagnosed with dyslexia, I failed most of my exams, I couldn't concentrate. And that's one thing you really need to be able to do. You need to have a good memory to win this. You also need to be able to concentrate, so there are so many benefits once you start exploring your imagination, your creativity."
The tournament stands in stark contrast to the quick-cut culture of television and gaming, which is often blamed for an increasingly short attention span among the rest of us. And the Internet, where there's always something new to check out, isn't helping much, either.
Link-shortening service bit.ly recently noticed that click rates for posts on Facebook, Twitter and regular web pages drop by half after roughly 3 hours -- and the drop off rate's even higher for big news stories. Half of the clicks those links will ever get occur in the first five minutes.