They say that an elephant never forgets. Lately, I wish that the same could be said about me. While on a lunchtime outing, my iPhone buzzed me with a meeting reminder. I sat and stared at it for several seconds. Was this the original meeting that I subsequently rescheduled for another day, or was this the rescheduled meeting, postponed from earlier in the week? I eventually figured it out, but not without some embarrassment about my initial confusion.
On that very same day, I noticed that I knew the lyrics to every song I heard on the radio or in the store. The artists varied (and I can’t believe I’m admitting to this): Led Zeppelin, Oasis, Taylor Swift, Def Leppard, Lady Gaga, The Smiths and Queen. Every single word. Why could I remember this, but not important information about the meeting?
Why can I remember the phone number of my childhood best friend (534-3344) even though we rarely spoke by phone? I can remember the combination to my high school locker (43-3-25) and my college mailbox (29-9-31). I can remember the headline to a press release that I wrote in 1995. Chances are good that I remember your birthday, even if I haven’t seen you since Ronald Reagan was president.
The amount of unnecessary knowledge floating around in there is staggering. Maybe, just maybe it’s useful that I remember the window of time necessary for the successful administration of IV-tPA in case of ischemic stroke, but is it really necessary to retain the license plate number of my first car in 1989?
There is plenty of information about different kinds of memory, but none that I’ve found that really explains why certain random items stick in your brain so permanently. A Google search for “remembering birthdays” gives lots of tricks for how to remember, but doesn’t offer much insight into how to purge the ones that you no longer need. Believe me, if I read that, I’d remember.