Has anyone else, like me when I first started using a Filofax, ever worried that writing things down would cause one to forget, rather than remember things? Nowadays, gurus like David Allen and Steven Covey preach the importance of writing everything down, so that it won't get lost before you have a chance to do it.
An article in the November 20, 2006 issue of The New Yorker suggests that the very fact of being able to read and write has a detrimental effect on memory. In India's Rajasthan region, a caste of bards called bhopas have been known to memorize epics of 100,000 stanzas (6 times the length of the Bible) and sing them straight through.
According to the article ("Homer in India," by William Dalrymple), "...illiteracy seems an essential condition for preserving the performance of an oral epic....This was certainly the conclusion of the Indian folklorist Komal Kothari. In the nineteen-fifties, Kothari came up with the idea of sending one of his principal sources, a singer from the Langa caste named Lakha, to adult-education classes. The idea was that he would learn to read and write, thus making it easier to collect the many songs he had preserved. Soon Kothari noticed that Lakha needed to consult his diary before he began to sing. Yet the rest of the Langa singers were able to remember hundreds of songs--an ability that Lakha had somehow begun to lose as he slowly learned to write."
As the bhopa tradition dies out, transcribing the epics is necessary to preserve them. Inevitably, some have been lost forever, dying along with the traveling bards who could sing volumes, but not write them down.
Photo of quill pen found in 15th century records from www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.