Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking With Einstein, speaks about what it means to be unusually good at a very specific skill
Since the dawn of Freakonomics, authors have been studying radical expertise, and author Joshua Foer's book Moonwalking with Einstein is another such paean to practice. But his speech on what makes an "expert" was an odd exercise for the audience at the 99 Percent Conference today, since we had been treated to a succession of them over the last two days. They seem normal enough.
If you imagine Foer's book as one of those info-tablets you'd find on a railing at a zoo, it's tempting to want the hard specs about this species of "expert" human for comparison. A cheetah can run 60 MPH; dolphins can stay submerged for 10 minutes. The expert-expert Foer, it turns out, can memorize the order of a 52-card deck in around a minute and 40 seconds.
For a crowd so invested in methodology, you might expect awe at Foer's memorization feat—especially considering the year of practicing he endured with a mental gymnastics club here in New York, and the Memory Champion title he won while writing his book. But as it turns out, Foer has a handicap: He's American. Elsewhere in the world, where memorization is apparently considered less lame of a hobby, mental gymnasts routinely memorize the same 52-card deck in about one-third the time. Most Americans have trouble breaking a minute.