I have always been forgetful, but, as I get older, I am sure it is getting worse. I read somewhere that our brains’ ability to forget is part of our secret of success. We constantly receive a stream of information through all our senses. If we remembered absolutely everything, we would simply drown in information. Our skill is the knack of only remembering [or, at least, only recalling] the key information that we need.
So, I guess that my forgetfulness is an indication that I have a highly evolved brain. I have also realized that it helps with my overall health by encouraging me to take more exercise. My house is on three levels and my home office is at the top. So, I may go down to the kitchen for coffee. Forget what I went down for and return. Remember and go down again. Take up coffee. Remember to go fetch the mail. Down again … and so on. All those stairs is like having my own gym.
I have noticed that the fact that people forget has had an interesting effect upon our culture …
One of the most irritating things about being absent minded is that, when I get introduced to someone, their name goes in one ear and out the other. I am constantly amazed by people who can remember names – particularly when they address me by name. I once met a teacher who could stand in front of a class, get each pupil to tell her their name and then accurately use their names accurately from then on. When I used to do some teaching, I was a big advocate of place name cards.
I like name badges. At some companies [notably HP], there seems to be a strong badge-wearing culture, which I feel is good for all concerned. At my camera club, everyone has badges and I think that, even in such a social context, they serve a useful purpose. I have two further thoughts about badges. Firstly, I wish someone could invent a hang-around-the-neck conference badge that does not have a tendency to turn around and hide the wearer’s name. Also, beware the person who wears their badge upside down – they cannot remember their own name.
I have observed that the cultures of two particular countries acknowledge the difficulties with remembering names:
In Japan [and, I believe, other countries in the Far East], if you are given a business card, it is considered impolite to just pocket it. You are expected to study it carefully to ensure you understand who the person is and, I assume, have a shot at internalizing their name.
In Sweden [and, again, I think this extends further to other Nordic countries], a person will always repeat their own name when they are introduced. So, an introduction might be: “May I introduce Fred” and Fred will shake hands with you and, as he does so, he will look you in the eye and say simply: “Fred”. Smart eh?