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{27/06/2012}   Memory

My memory’s not what it used to be.  Or maybe I’ve forgotten how it used to be?  Or maybe I don’t challenge it.  From birth until you get to the end of your academic life, your memory is probably your biggest asset in terms of your development, most of the rest comes from how you use this incredible resource.

Since leaving university at 22, the only studies I have done are to learn stenography, a year of, essentially, learning a new language.  I know that if I did a further degree now, I would struggle, but I can see this would largely be as a result of being out of the habit of studying.  I would also blame my, as I perceive it, poor memory on probably more than would be justified.

I think the decline of my memory started when I was about 24/25 and teaching English in Japan.  Actually, it wasn’t so much my memory, more my use of “big words”, which was a bit of a slippery slope.  When you live abroad, and particularly when your language skills appropriate to that country are lacking, you learn to *new word alert* thesaurusise your vocabulary to make it both less colloquial and easier to understand.  I then feel I kind of forgot how to use some words correctly and I’m sure my vocabulary has narrowed, though I do have some niche vocabulary as a result of my job!

I very often hear myself saying, “Oh, what’s that word”; is that because because my memory is on the slide or that I’m not challenging my vocabulary on a day to day basis?  Likewise spellings, there are words I can no longer spell.  But it’s ok, I don’t have to use a dictionary, because most writing I do is using a keyboard and all things keyboard have a spell checker!

So is technology to blame?  Mobile phones and computers can do the remembering for you, and we let them.  Technological advances are wonderful but they are, in my mind, taking over jobs our brains used to do, indeed are designed to do.  Phones and computers are one thing but now there are more automatic cars around and more functions in cars, things we used to be able to do ourselves, like engaging in the process of parking rather than having bippers and even video cameras to assist.  Technology is helping us to allow ourselves to become brain and body lazy.

Years ago, I read a story about a teacher in a US school who, on the day, or perhaps day after, JFK was shot asked everyone in his class (all pre-teen) what they were doing when they found out.  The memory was fresh and lengthy descriptions were given.  He asked them to write down their memory, saying he would return their descriptions when they graduated high school.  Everyone was adamant they would remember.  Correct, they did all remember, because the teacher, maybe ten years later, asked them what they were doing when JFK died.  But all of their recollections deviated from what they had written, the smaller details had changed with time.

I worry that a lot of my memories are enhanced, altered perhaps, by photographs.  Sometimes I think I recall an event because I have recently seen a photo and have merely embellished that.  Some of my friends can remember amazing detail of our primary school years.  I think they are probably largely correct.  I struggle to think what my first memory is and I’m pretty sure my first big memories are from my school years between seven and eleven, though I can remember snippets.  For example, I can sort of picture the dining hall of my primary school and the tables and benches.  I also have a feeling of repulsion at having to drink milk.  But I don’t remember if I forced it down or got excused from drinking it.  I can also picture a water fountain and my friend punching me in the stomach and winding me.  I also remember the toilets were portacabins and that the roll towels were dirty and I hated drying my hands.  Ha, funny, I don’t dry my hands after washing them as a general rule!

Perhaps what annoys me most about my “failing” memory is that I can’t remember things I’ve read or seen.  I know if I’ve seen a film or read a book and I can tell you whether I liked it and how it made me feel.  But I can’t tell you what happened.  People can “spoil” a story by telling me the ending, I will then read or see it and won’t know the spoiler until I see if for myself.  What’s that about?  Maybe that’s a lack of concentration when it comes to reading or watching things.  I can watch, say, the news and be staring at the TV and hearing what’s going on, then someone watching with me can comment on it and I won’t know that they’re talking about something I’ve just heard.  I think my problem with reading or watching a film/TV is that I am usually thinking about other things I should be doing or that are on my mind.  All the above, infuriatingly, also applies to things people tell me.  I’m great at keeping secrets, because I don’t chuffing remember them, other than bits.

I find the brain and its memory function absolutely incredible and utterly fascinating.  Maybe writing and thinking about this will set me on a path to learning in an attempt to re-engage my memory.  It would be wonderful to remember the interesting things people tell me!

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