Monday, November 30, 2009

Memory Marketing

When I was 21, I had a black hole memory. Once data entered, it was sucked in forever. I didn’t own an appointment calendar. Let's say on March 22 I scheduled a dentist visit for May 16 at 3:45 pm at his new office. Two months later I remembered to go, and what the directions were, and the license plates of every car I drove behind, and the names of the receptionist’s 13 grandchildren, and the exact number of pages of each of the 20 magazines in the waiting room. We’re talking really useful information.

Flash forward to present day: I can’t even remember what I just wrote about in the last paragraph.

Oh wait, that’s right. Something about memory. I know everybody notices the decline as their memory neurons forget what they’re supposed to be doing, and wander off to fiddle with other bodily functions they have no experience managing. That's the real reason the rest of your body also starts failing as you age.

But if I had really internalized when I was 21 that I was in my recall superpowers heyday, I would have milked it for all it was worth. I would have memorized Crime and Punishment. (OK, you caught me pretending to be literary. Better make that TV Guide.) I would have transcribed from memory entire three-hour conversations. And how impressively musical I would have been, recalling entire sets of song lyrics after one hearing and singing them back to anyone who would listen, and even to those who tried not to.

I should have marketed this ability. Imagine, you go to the county fair, and there's my booth. You come up and read something you wrote, fast, for 5 minutes straight, and then you challenge me to repeat it back to you word for word. My sign says I pay 20:1 to anyone who can catch me in so much as a one-syllable mistake, so you bet ten bucks per minute that I'll slip up. But I don't. When I see you many years later, I still remember every word, and exactly what you were wearing that day. I even remember the way you swore George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV" when you lost your $50, because that was a lot more money in 1985. But I have gone on to become a wildly famous blogger, and you have gone on to reopen the wounds of my victory that day, as cruel fate leads you to be reading this very blog and reliving that traumatic experience so long ago. So ha, I win again! But I digress.

There were more ways I could have made a career of this back then. Certainly I could have applied my skill to some sort of espionage, bringing our enemies to their knees by out-remembering them when it came to terrain, war strategies, or even after-battle rounds of that old memory game "Concentration." (Remember that? It was also a game show with an unmemorable host, if I remember correctly). Or I could have been a professional "rememberer." I could have helped many a husband avoid getting in trouble for forgetting his wife's birthday, or for forgetting where he said he was when he gave his wife some excuse for not coming home until 4 a.m.

But who knows if exercising my memory to that degree would have been detrimental? Sure, "they" say that the more you challenge your memory all your life, the more you strengthen it. But can you really trust "they"? You'll notice that "they" couldn't even get people to remember who "they" were, such that "they" are doomed to being referred to as a generic third-person pronoun. For all we know, it may be that if I had run around fulfilling my aforementioned memory fantasies, I would have used up most of my memory cells, and would continue to forget even more than I already do.

Not sure I'll ever know the truth, though. For all I know I actually did fulfill all those memory fantasies, but I just don't remember doing it.