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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Column: Making a memory

This Monday the lives of New Yorkers were changed forever with a mind-infiltrating advertising scheme that is sure to revolutionize the industry. No longer will that twenty-something college student question spending that extra dollar. The New York Lottery is here to tell them that they better “Be ready. Good things happen in an instant.”

It only takes an instant to become voluntarily unemployed. An instant to fly to D.C. and buy the Smithsonian. An instant to rent a room in Cinderella’s castle.

But if it really only takes an instant for great things to happen, why do we spend so much time in lines? Why do we have to wait a week to find out we aced our midterms?

As an NPR writer beautifully articulated: “Where does one go, in this time of instant oatmeal, instant messaging and instant gratification, to find the time and solitude to fully ponder…’deep’ questions. Academia? We think not. The monastery? We doubt it. The asylum? Maybe.”

We believe in instant gratification. We believe in drive-thrus, overnight delivery and “On Demand” television. We expect the world to go according to our schedule, granting us the time to do whatever our planner says, and ensuring that we avoid all series of unfortunate events.

We’d rather assume that our teachers will have answers for every question and that our roommate will pay the rent right away than envision the possibility of having to improvise. To assume that things will occur “instantly” is to disregard the massive hoard of reliability that is present in our own memories.

A recent study published in California Physics found that we force our brains to consume three times as much information as people did 40 years ago. This extraneous consumption is said to reduce our capacity for long-term memory and can even weaken our creative juices.

In his book Moonwalking With Einstein, Joshua Foer, the 2006 United States Memory champion, discusses the history of memory.

Foer argues how we hate on our memories far too often when we can’t remember that phone number or our supervisor’s instructions. He explains that our memories evolved at a time when remembering the route home that bypassed poisonous material was exceedingly more significant than your second cousin’s middle name. As Ed Cooke, Foer’s mentor, shared in one of his lessons, “Our memories weren’t built for the modern world.”

Most articles will tell you that this lapse in memory is due to our growing reliance on technology. This may be so, but I’m a little skeptical. I don’t think we can blame our iPhones and label-makers for the complete loss of awareness that we often experience. As Foer explains, our idea of the supposed “functions” of memory differs greatly from opinions of those who preceded us.

In the middle ages, books were primarily used as “memory aids.” Rather than writing things down on post-its to recall them for the test, our 15th century contemporaries didn’t need texts for the answers. At a time when printed books were rare and money scarce, they had no choice but to rely on their memories.

While I’ll admit that I couldn’t recite 98 percent of the numbers in my cell phone without cheating, I know that my compulsive desire to have things right here, right now, has significantly affected my memory.

We believe that everything we invest our time or, god forbid, our money into must prove itself worthwhile immediately. A penny spent without gratification is a penny wasted.

When the healthcare debate was at its peak, a hospital chief executive shared with NPR that, in his mind, Americans are so caught up with instant gratification that they “cannot wait until the next day to see a primary care physician, which would accommodate most of their needs…if they were willing to wait.”

Whether this is true or not, it’s clear that we’ve come to a point where the waiting game is taboo. Frankly, we’d rather forfeit the game. At least we wouldn’t have to wait to see who won.

It’s hard to imagine a world where we don’t believe in instant gratification. We have no reason to give up convenience for overdue deliveries and delayed e-mail responses.

But until we find our way out of this mess, we can help ourselves by giving our memories something to do once in a while. Before you glance at your notes to find that necessary detail from lecture, take five minutes to actually try to remember it and let your brain search. In most cases, that mass of weight on your head that makes your hair look good will execute its job perfectly and you’ll end up feeling incredibly intelligent.

If you’re in the mood for some bestsellers, MAYA MAKKER recommends anything written by one of the three Foer brothers. If you’re thankful for the genes in that family, let her know at mgmakker@ucdavis.edu.

3 COMMENTS

  1. hey Maya- this was an excellent column — we definitely do *not* need all that info input to live a full, complete, and decent life, and we need to start tuning things *out* to get back to a better place, in the modern world. *And* get more patient. Spending more time in Nature and natural, calming, settings, which is sadly neglected for so many of us, helps hugely with this. Thx for the good words, and tips. :-> -MSSG

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