We’ve written a lot about memory and meaning and memory on this Boles Blog over the last decade or so — and yet I am always a little bit shocked and surprised when I read elsewhere, on other blogs — revelations of how fleeting and failing memories really are in the execution of rallying a daily life.

The blog post in question was written by a fresh and successful database engineer who, at a young age, was mildly complaining, in the midst of a technical exposé, how his short-term memory was failing him.  He was trying to draw parallels between caching database memory and how his mind would clear, on its own, important, stored information he needed for short-term recall.

The young designer shared with us that if he thought of something while in the midst of working, he had to immediately stop and write down the thought on a piece of paper, or in the next thought, he’d forget what he meant to do next when he had a break in time.

The author didn’t seem to be particularly alarmed by his lack of short-term memory reception, but I felt for him because his letter read as if this were a semi-new experience that he was dealing with in the analytical manner of a software designer and problem fixer. He was using mechanical logic to solve a scientific health problem.

Doing a bit of quick internet research led to me to discover that short-term memory loss is not, in general, a big deal.  Lots of folks deal with the loss and they work with with the deficit accordingly by writing notes and setting reminders on their phones and computers.

Upon reflection of my life against his, my short-term memory has always been pretty agile and strong, but I have noticed over time, that the more hungry and tired I am in the waning of the day, the more I get less capable and aware that I may not be remembering the particulate minutiae of the day and what I planned to immediately do next.

The wave moment presents itself in the worst atmosphere when I’m multiple-multi-tasking, and I plan to visit somewhere on the web next when I’m doing reading what I’m doing and then, when the time for “next” arrives, I forget for a moment what, exactly, I planned to do next.

A perfectly painful example of this loss is the URL of the young database designer’s article.  I can’t remember exactly where I read it out of the thousands of things I read a day and when your web browser runs out of memory and barfs… you realize some things cannot easily be recalled.

Oftentimes, retracing the steps of my memory leads me back to the non-logical outlier in my mind that I planned to proffer next in my web gathering.  Spastic thinking has many benefits, but putting the originating spasms in a later logical order for retracing is not one of them!

That instant of disremembering the outlier offers me a future taste of frustration that the young author in question must feel for most of his day, but, unlike him, I find if I write something down, I immediately forget it — because I’ve committed it to paper — and can’t read my handwriting later, and so I have always cemented things in the short-term cache of my active mind, and when that reliable cache begins to clear my mind without me, I start to wonder about the sting of the dimwitted and the impending, looming, darkness that can overtake any life in old age.

Memory is selective and deceptive by design and when your own mind begins to play with you, the question of trust and judgment and perception become pinnacles to be challenged across and clambered over.

I suppose the worst thing about losing your mind is being unaware of the loss — but maybe there’s a blessing in that not-knowing for the sufferer — because you can’t begin to miss something you no longer realize you never had.

2 Comments

  1. Interesting piece, David. Somehow I think (especially as I get, yes, older) that KNOWING that you don’t remember and can’t do things any more is much worse than being (my term) “blissfully” unaware. That sounds very sad to me

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