I was listening to the radio and a commentator was talking about how a former big name politician was considering endorsing a candidate. It had been some eight years since he held office, but he had a presence on the national scene. Another commentator said he didn’t think what this person had to say would have much influence because nobody really heard much about them anymore. They didn’t have a presence on social media and so out of sight made them out of mind.
I got to thinking about how our culture churns out new popular people and gobbles them up as quickly as they create them. For every of the moment celebrity someone is slipping off the social radar. I wondered if this deluge of new importance and downgrading of old news will affect memory. If our attention spans shorter does our memory go with it?
I work at a school where every year about a hundred students leave and replaced by a 100 more. That is a hundred names to know, in addition to the staff and faculty turnover. I find the more years I do the job the less names I remember. I don’t know if that is consequence of aging and natural memory loss or my brains ability to add 100 plus names a year along with every other new thing that comes along. I suspect it is some of both of those things along with my brain’s having decided some time ago that it wasn’t really all that interested in names. Faces it can remember. Places it can remember. Names not so much.
There is a fair amount of research on memory. Although I can’t remember any of it now. That was a joke. I actually do remember some things. Tracy Packiam Alloway , PhD is an expert in memory. In reflecting on the influence of technology she does not think it is making our brains lazy. “I would suggest that it is making us more efficient. Instead of having to fill up our mental ‘space’ with lots of information , this space is not freed up to focus on other things.”
It turns out it is less important that we memorize names, but more important that we develop our “working memory.” Our working memory involves taking the information we have and putting it into use. In the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Dr Alloway writes: “working memory is the #1 predictor of learning success.” Less you fret she writes in The Journal of Interactive Learning Research: “Working memory can be trained.” Whew. She has, of course, a book to help you out if you are interested.
So now when I can’t remember someone’s name I take refuge in the knowledge that my brain is using its space for other endeavors and I put my memories of my social skills into play and try to politely ask them to remind me.