Minding my memory

Last Call

The moment of realization was exhilarating and satisfying. No instant internet searching. No smartphone scrolling. No flipping through worn pages.

Instead, an answer was plucked from the far reaches of my memory.

It may have taken several days, but it was pure bliss when it was revealed. I saw the letters materialize, and then the words developed, and I’m sure my eyes widened in excitement.

After many moments of serious contemplation — and other hours thinking of anything but the question — a name appeared in a lightning bolt of illumination. Throughout the summer my friend and I have exchanged, via text, answers to a trivia question.

The exact nature of the question isn’t significant (just know that the naming of mostly obscure baseball players is at its core), but what is important is how we arrived at our answers.

The matter of such frivolous trivia is serious business, which requires not a quick Google search but recollection at the highest level of concentration. Flashbacks swim through my mind like Microfilm: A brief highlight caught on TV, a transaction noticed in small print, the lamenting of incredulous radio announcers.

All those stored memories coalesce to find an answer. And then eventually another answer.

Days have gone by with neither of us buzzing in with a name. But then one will pop onto the screen, and I’ll smile in recognition and admiration.

The game remains alive.

I’ve long enjoyed the pleasure of recalling an event or a bit of minutiae by working through my memories.

This was a topic of a recent article that explored how technology has impacted our memories. Smartphones are so ubiquitous and flooded with outlets for information that it is easy to find answers within hundreds of seconds.

But things can be lost with instant gratification. Professor Oliver Hardt, who studies the neurobiology of memory and forgetting at McGill University in Montreal, told The Guardian that once we stop using our memory “it will get worse.” Hardt suggests the convenience of the technology has a price.

Not all experts agree on technology’s detrimental effects on memory. Recently, findings by a team led by Dr. Sam Gilbert that were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General reveal that storing information in digital devices can improve memory. And last year a paper by University of Cincinnati social/behavioral expert Anthony Chemero said digital technology supplements our thinking.

But it can’t replace the thrill of the chase. I recently watched a show and immediately recognized an actress who had appeared as a different character in another show. I couldn’t place the name.

For the entire episode half my concentration was spent on recalling her name in that other drama series. The process included a run through the alphabet and a sounding out of names that I hoped would lead me to the correct one.

The show ended with the name still elusive, but I remained determined. Mulling it over, a flurry of possibilities raced through my mind as I paced the living room, then sat down, eyes affixed to the ceiling. I knew I was close. It was right there. My mind churned.

It’s interesting how the most common actions can lead to extraordinary revelations. Later, while reading an article with absolutely no ties to acting or television shows, I suddenly saw it clearly in my mind. I was energized. The name. I remembered.

There wasn’t much I could do with this bit of useless information. No awards to be won, no plaudits to be received, but no matter — for a few minutes I savored the moment.

The answer could have been found much faster, but what would have been the fun in that?