COLM O'REGAN: I get maudlin about how much has been forgotten

Out of nowhere, the name popped into my head. It was of someone I went to school with. Let’s call them Name McNameFace.

I was this close to trying to find him on Facebook or LinkedIn. Periodically I experience regret that I can’t remember huge stretches of my life so I’m always tempted to get in contact with people I barely know through social media. It’s pure nosiness to see how their life has turned out but also I hope they’ll be able to trigger memories. Because I get maudlin about how much has been forgotten.

I remember key things from school of course, the Leaving Cert, the four fights I was in and lost (in two I started crying), the first time I sawed straight in woodwork (which was also the last time I sawed straight in woodwork) and a few other short snippets.

But the rest is gone. Or maybe it’s in there somewhere and just needs triggers to unlock it. The only thing is, if you don’t know something is there, what good is it being there?

‘Forget’ is one of the first verbs we learn, specifically because it’s one of the early ones we used in order to tell lies to adults who weren’t our parents. Forgetting to bring in your homework is always preferable to just not doing it. While the former allows the teacher to roll their eyes at your sieve-like brain, the latter is a direct challenge to their authority and the whole point of formal education. “Yeah I didn’t do the homework because I couldn’t be arsed,” you seem to be saying.

Plus you’re just doing what comes naturally. Scientists (I don’t know which scientists, just some people in white coats with clipboards OK?) now say that forgetting is part of the normal brain function. Mundane memories need to be dumped in order to make way for new ones. In fact the very act of forgetting things makes remembering other things easier. They did this with mice. I’m not sure how. Maybe they asked them to memorise the capitals of the world but then they found they’d forgotten the 92 English League clubs.

Babies forget their babyhood for the same reason. As they lay down new building blocks of memory they need to dump all the old stuff like crawling or staring at a boob from about a millimetre away.

It seems a pity. When I’m holding my daughter and doing her a big favour like feeding her or gently rocking her to sleep, I kinda regret that she’s not going to remember just how damn nice and selfless I’m being. It seems such a waste. But then on the other hand it might be just as well. Babies are also witnesses to us learning how to be parents. They have some seriously compromising information about us. One of the pleasures parents can look forward to is embarrassing adult children later in life about what they were like. But imagine if babies could remember, What stories would they tell around the dinner table or a riposte to the father of the bride/groom speech.

“You know you tied my nappy too tight most of the time right? THAT’S what I was giving out about. I WASN’T overtired all those times. It was just your incompetence. Oh and the SMELL of drink off ye after Electric Picnic …”

It all makes me wonder: what is the effect of the endless recording of our lives that we do now through photos or videos? And in future when we’re all wearing iContactLenses that are also cameras constantly whirring? If we record everything will we remember more things from the past because we won’t have to remember the present because it’ll be recorded for us? But we’ll never get the time to watch it so eventually with our whole lives recorded, we’ll remember nothing? There’s literally not enough room in my brain to contemplate the significance of this so I’ll have to forget something to make room.

Now, where was I?


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