A new national poll confirms that Americans can name all seven of Snow White's dwarves but no more than two of the Supreme Court Justices; we know Homer Simpson but not Homer's Odyssey and can identify Harry Potter but not Tony Blair.
It’s appropriate here to simply say DUH.
The majority of us would never have retained the Preamble of the Constitution had it not been for Schoolhouse Rock. “We the People.”
This is not a new phenomenon. It's human nature. -- and much easier -- to remember things you have a natural affinity for, isn't it? I can remember the entire starting line-up from the 1979 Red Sox but I have no idea who the Secretary of the Interior was that year. I can remember the set list from a U2 show from 1987, but not a Hootie & the Blowfish show I attended on a horrendous date in 1995. Some things just don't stick. Others, like Chris Golan as Chucklebunny, do.
We retain some things, like cheesy commercials, through the osmosis of familiarity: "Big Mac Fillet of Fish Quarter Pounder French Fries Icy Coke Thick Shakes Sundaes and Apple Pies."
Other things because of the history surrounding them: I remember the Latin phrase “Sic transit gloria mundi” (thus passes the glory of the world) because the words hung on a banner on my high school after the Red Sox lost the World Series in 1986.
Forced repetition is also a fierce way to retain info: I can still recite the poem "In Flanders Field" that I was forced to learn in 4th grade, and the opening lines of Chaucer in Olde English.
Still, most of the information I DO recall has little-to-no-value, and some of it -- like knowing the Sox's starting line-up from 1979 -- has actually betrayed me. Let's just say I made a complete ASS of myself in front of Jim Rice at a corporate function.
("Yeah. Hey. Wow. Yeah...someone call security")
Professor Robert Thompson from at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University (who schooled our pal Colleen) said, “These results are not about how 'dumb' Americans are, but about how much more effectively popular culture information is communicated and retained by citizens than many of the messages that come from government, educational institutions and the media.”
Also, we may not retain information effectively because we no longer have to. In a world where answers are as easy as typing something into Google or Wikipedia (i.e,the Secretary of the Interior in 1979 was Cecil D. Andrus),we don't have to spend much time with bothersome learnin' or legwork. It's easy to see why we’re less likely to cling to anything, material or immaterial.