Working memory in conversational CW

I have met Chuck N6UOE again on 20m in morning a few days ago. It was last Sept. when we met for the first time. It was a couple of weeks since he had come back on the air after 45 years of absence. He was 77 years old retired professor from UC Davis. His specialty was communication social science, which I had had least idea of.

He seemed to have been active on CW ever since. We have, however, agreed that there have been much less conversational CW activity on any bands. I was glad, despite of that overall low activity of conversational CW, he had still stuck to this enjoyment of CW.

He thought the reason why it had declined was that they had dropped the requirement of CW skill from the exam. And the internet has taken it over as well. I agreed fully with him about that. It might be very boring and take too much time and labor for young hams to train themselves for conversational CW.

In addition to the reason above, I thought of the old timers whom we missed, mostly retired R/O, so proficient in CW and kind enough to do with new comers and eventually to educate them to be good CW conversationists. I could recall dozens of such examples who were active from '60s through '80s. Sadly enough, most of them have gone inactive or even silent key by now. It was those old timers who had conveyed the art of CW from the previous generation to us.

Lastly, it seems to be the most important reason to me that few question about the essence of the pleasure to converse on CW. It may be too obvious for them to question about that. Some say CW is a handy mode to work DX with small set up. The others say CW QSO is so quick that it won't take much time. These may be right but seem to be only secondary. What is the essential question to be asked? It is what makes us feel pleasant and relaxed to converse on this mode. Without asking and realizing about it, we could hardly tell young new comers why it deserves to learn CW spending that too much time and work.

 Even after having been on this mode wondering about that question on the intrinsic aspect of conversational CW, I have not reached any definite answer yet. Recently, I have thought that working memory in our cognitive function might be a clue to answer this question. Working memory is a functional concept of cognitive psychology, which deals with the cognition and memory with the short and long term memory cooperating at it. It is closely related with the secondary language acquisition. Recent advance in functional brain science with f MRI is revealing the anatomical sites in brain responsible for this function as well.

CW reception is comparable to reading printed materials as I have reiterated in this blog. That highly intellectual process may progress in working memory. Long term memory provides the code memory itself which is almost dealt in subconsciousness in a proficient operator. In case of non English native, translation process must be made with another long term memory. The information of the other we talk to might come from the long term memory as well. So called head copy requires the short term memory. In this process, we need to comprehend what it has been sent and to conceptualize it, which may help to store the information into the long term memory. This is a pretty rough sketch of the working memory hypothesis in conversational CW. It is important that conversational CW is a highly intellectual process in our cognitive function, where we should activate the whole working memory. When it successfully works, it might give us satisfaction. This is what I believe we still adhere to this primitive as well as slow mode of communication even in this modern era when we could utilize the other modes.    

When I mentioned a bit of this idea to Chuck, he has agreed with me. As the usefulness of conversational CW, he thinks, it would work to prevent the aged people from suffering from dementia. That may be another aspect of conversational CW as the intellectual process, described above. It could be a rehab or prevention of dementia.

I am far from understanding the working memory hypothesis of the essence of conversational CW and even the working memory itself. The above mentioned observation is only very primitive rough sketch of the process. It seems to deserve studying about that, however. That will make me consent to have spent so much time and energy for this mode in my life, which is the basis we could recommend young people to start with it with confidence.


  1. That's an interesting concept.
    When I speak with others about conversing in CW, I like to use the analogy of fly-fishing. There are other types of fishing which are more productive; but fly-fishing requires a sufficient amount of concentration to stay focused, yet not so much as to make it distasteful.
    I think CW is like fly-fishing. Once you learn it, you can continue to work on mastering the various elements of the craft. It becomes enjoyable and requires a focus. It may not be as effective at transferring large quantities of data in a very short time compared to some other communication modes; but I don't think there is a more enjoyable form of communication on the amateur radio bands today.

    73 de WU7F, Mark in Utah, USA

    1. Mark,

      It is your objective feeling for conversational CW. It is an important view for you. However, for those like me who have never done fly-fishing, that analogy is hard to understand. If you have spare time, you may go for fishing but won't spend time for radio, mayn't you?


    2. Shin,
      I think it is the solar flares (like what we are having today) rather than the fishing that might keep me off the radio! :)
      In recent years I have taken up photography again. Between that and ham radio, I have little time for fishing. I find that I can take my small QRP rig with me on some of my photo excursions and enjoy both hobbies at different times throughout the day and night.

  2. Interesting comment on your QRZ page Shin. We just did the "chasing DX game" of making as many contacts as possible. I would have loved to chat with you for a while on CW while we had a chance on 40M. My first love in ham radio was CW also. But I fear others who are playing the game would resent me taking all the air time away from them for a chance for them to put your call sign in their log book. So I have no choice but to join the game since it's the only thing left. We still have some "rag-chewers" here in the states who also enjoy when the "tempo of CW synchronizes with thinking," I'm one of them. There seems to be an unwritten rule about conversing among ourselves in CW being OK, but not with DX stations.
    I'm not sure what caused a fascination in my mind when I was 9 or 10 years old at the thought of conversing using morse code. What ever it was, I became obsessed over it. I'm 54 years old now and in today's busy world, I find conversing in CW forces me to block out everything and focus on the conversation. Conversing in CW is a *relief* or an "escape" from what seems like a continuous stream of distractions/concerns/worries/insults/craziness/insanity of the day.
    I'm thankful for at least a quick exchange of information with you Shin, 73. Guy, WB5UAA, Longview, Texas.

    1. Guy,

      Nice to hear you on 40m tonight. Hopefully, the condition may improve soon and lets us chat a bit longer. Please omit that unwritten rule and try to converse us, JAs, oftener. I am sure there are a lot in JA who would enjoy chatting with statesside.


  3. Hi Shin. As usual, your ability to express yourself in English is extraordinary. I myself operate only CW and as you know, enjoy conversational Morse code. In addition, I enjoy the excitement and competition of Radiosport. At the end of the day, a number of things demand our time and interests. Fortunately there are numerous "Apps" like IOTA and SOTA and other areas of interest that encourage people to learn and use CW. Hopefully people will enjoy the casual conversation as well. Keep the faith! I'll see you on 40 meters in the morning here in Texas and your evenings before a glass of nice wine and done cello or reading in Japan. Jim.

    1. Jim,

      Thanks for the kind words and comment. Since I quit enjoying contesting or DXing, the only thing which attracts me to CW is this conversational process. It is worth thinking and investigating what it is for us.

      I always finish that glass of beer earlier in the evening when I start cooking dinner. A kitchen drinker! Anyway, I always enjoy seeing you getting up and having your 1st cup of coffee there. See you often and inspire me with your thoughts.