In recent years my memory has been getting worse. Part of this is probably down to my over reliance on the Internet (why remember stuff when you can Google it?) but I also see it in my peers. Fiona, who’s a smidge older than me, also has a dodgy memory which has affected our relationship in some amusing ways. When we’re talking about stuff, neither of us can be 100% sure that we’ve talked about it before, which means we have an endless supply of things to talk about. Even if we can remember a specific conversation we probably can’t recall the details so it doesn’t hurt to go over it again. A relationship built on faulty memories turns out to be an endlessly fascinating one. It’s not Alzheimer’s, which is a serious thing, but it’s certainly something to do with age. I don’t recall my memory being this flakey in the past.
“I don’t recall.” Once you start down this road phrases like that become very problematic. How can I say I didn’t used to have a shitty memory if I can’t recall having a shitty memory? Does the chance that I might have forgotten I didn’t have something mean I might have had it? Probably not, because there’s a massive distinction between specific details and broad strokes. I can confidently say I had a conversation with Tom at the shop on Tuesday. I can give a rough account of the main topics we talked about. I haven’t got a hope in hell of recalling the words we used. So I can fairly confidently say I don’t recall having a shit memory in when I was younger because that’s a massively broad thing to have knowledge of.
I wonder how the police and courts deal with this? There’s the notion of the unreliable witness, for sure, but aren’t we all unreliable to some extent? How can you possibly rely on someone’s memory of an event when that memory is fundamentally flawed? I guess you cross reference it with other imperfect memories and whatever matches is probably close to the truth. Which is probably why assaults that take place in private are so hard to prosecute. It’s not that we don’t believe you were assaulted by your husband – it’s that we can’t. At least not until we have omniscient surveillance.
It’s funny how the my brain seems to think it has an perfect memory. I quite often think to myself “oh, I can remember that” for some small piece of information, and then 5 minutes later it’s gone. You’d think I’d have learned by now.
The weirdest one for me is names. People say they’re terrible at remembering names but I’m the worst. I’ve been known to forget the names of my best friends right at the moment I’m introducing them to someone, but it more commonly hits when I meet someone new. Because this happens so much and it’s really not an ideal thing to happen I’ve tried to work out what’s going on. I meet the person and the first thing they do is tell me their name. I then repeat the name, out loud and in my head and try my damnedest to remember it. Then the rest of the introductory chat happens and within minutes I’ve forgotten it. So I ask again, making some joke about how I’m terrible at this but, sure enough, it lasts as long as water on a slate tile on a summer’s day. And now I’ve asked twice and it’s rude to ask again so I just bluff through and, later, ask someone else.
I think what’s going on here is a combination of being so scared I might forget the name that I hold on too tight and crush the memory, and having to use all my cognitive powers to sustain a conversation with a stranger, something I’m not historically great at but have learned to bluster through with a bit of stagecraft and reactive wit. By the time I’m in full flow any chance of remembering the poor person’s name is lost.
Thinking about it, I think I communicate at my best when I’m off script and reactive. When I’m in full flow, giving a talk or addressing a group, I often lose myself in the moment and have no memory of what I’m saying. It’s like I go into a trance, my ego is subsumed with all it’s paranoid insecurities and my brain is free to do its thing. I don’t listen to recordings of my talks out of vanity. I do so to find out what I said.
So maybe this names thing isn’t to do with overwhelming my brains with social anxieties. It’s just the way my social mask works. I, as in my inner cognitive self, cannot be trusted to hold a conversation without getting all tied up in knots, so the inner self is shut down leaving the auto-pilot to take over. Auto-Pete isn’t any less authentic, but he lacks the crushing insecurities and is able to give a good impression. The problem is his memories don’t transfer back to Inner-Pete.
Oh my god. I’ve created a monster.