In the old library

Josh Foer [ Moonwalking with Einstein ] My memory was average at best. Among the things I regularly forgot: where I put my car keys (where I put my car, for that matter); the food in the oven; that it’s “Its” and not “it’s”; my girlfriend’s birthday, our anniversary, Valentine’s Day, the clearance of the doorway to my parents’ cellar (ouch); my friends’ phone numbers; why I just opened the fridge; to plug in my cell phone; the name of the President chief of staff; the order of the New Jersey Turnpike rest stops; which year the Redskins last won the Super Bowl; to put the toilet seat down.

Moonwalking with EinsteinEvery day there seems to be more to remember: more names, more passwords, more appointments. Our culture constantly inundates us with new information, and yet our brains capture so little of it. Most just goes in one ear and out the other. If the point of reading were simply to retain knowledge, it would probably be the single least efficient activity I engage in. I can spend a half dozen hours reading a book and then have only a foggy notion of what it was about. All those facts and anecdotes, even the stuff interesting enough to be worth underlining, have a habit of briefly making an impression on me and then disappearing into who knows where. There are books on my shelf that I can’t even remember whether I’ve read or not.

What would it mean to have all that otherwise-lost knowledge at my fingertips’ I couldn’t help but think that it would make me more persuasive, more confident, and, in some fundamental sense, smarter. Certainly I’d be a better journalist, friend, and boyfriend. But more than that, I imagined that having a memory like Ben Pridmore’s would make me an altogether more attentive, perhaps even wiser, per¬son. To the extent that experience is the sum of our memories and wisdom the sum of experience, having a better memory would mean knowing not only more about the world, but also more about myself. Surely some of the forgetting that seems to plague us is healthy and necessary. If I didn’t forget so many of the dumb things I’ve done, I’d probably be unbearably neurotic. But how many worthwhile ideas have gone unthought and connections unmade because of my memory’s shortcomings?

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: International Projects

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