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Thanks For No Memory
by Mad Dog
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Mad Dog column has been published by Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, NY Daily News, S.F. Chronicle, Boston Phoenix and other fine newspapers.

We’re not getting dumber, we’re getting fuller. And I don’t mean our stomachs, I mean our brains. Think about it. Once upon a time all we needed to know was “Animal big. Me get smooshed,” “Berries pretty. Ogg no breathe,” and “Feet hurt. Wish me have wheel.” But life isn’t that simple anymore. Nowadays we have a lot more on our minds, from what we have to do at work to how we’re going to find the time to do it when we’re not at work, from what order to push the buttons on the microwave so the chicken defrosts instead of turning to rubber to remembering which of the 247 channels that scroll by on the Preview Guide we actually get, because lord knows whenever a show catches our eye all we wind up seeing is a message telling us the phone number to call to subscribe. I guess that’s why the Preview Guide has such high ratings, higher even than the final episode of Dancing with the American Survivor Runway Idol Stars.

It’s easy to confuse ignorance with a full brain. A recent poll taken in England (motto: “We had the Euro named after us, what’s been named after you?”) found that 3 out of 4 Brits think Mt. Everest is either in the Alps or in England. And that a Sherpa is the new SUV by Ford. Okay, kidding about the Sherpa, but that’s only because Ford didn’t think of it. While it would be easy to blame the Brits’ lack of knowledge on an education system that’s as good as their teeth or sausage rolls clogging their carotid arteries, that wouldn’t be fair. The British have a lot on their minds these days. Tony Blair is gone and they’re stuck with a prime minister who’s duller than a powdered wig, Helen Mirren turned out to be a better queen than the Queen, and now it looks like the much hoped for Led Zeppelin-Spice Girls reunion tour isn’t going to happen because Victoria wouldn’t stop telling Jimmy Page to bend the notes like Beckham. With all that going on, who cares about Mt. Whatever-It-Is?

Yes, our brains are saturated. The Information Age begat the Overload Years, and now it’s hard to know what to hold onto and what to send to the Recycle Bin. We can remember what night and time our favorite TV shows are on but think “54-40 or Fight” is the ad slogan for an anti-aging cream. We can type in our sleep — and often do — but for the life of us we can’t remember how to find the calculator on our cell phone when we need it. Heck, ET had it easier when he tried to phone home than we do with the average cell phone today. I don’t know about you, but if my home phone number wasn’t in Speed Dial I wouldn’t be able to call home.

Recently, White House press secretary Dana Perino was on the Not My Job segment of the National Public Radio program, Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me. She admitted that she had been at a loss when asked at a press conference if Russian President Putin thought our missile defense program was like the Cuban Missile Crisis because she didn’t know a Cuban Missile Crisis from a Cuban sandwich. When she got home she asked her British husband, who filled her in, though it would be interesting to find out if he knows where Mt. Everest is.

Ignorant? Uneducated? Doubtful. She probably heard about the Cuban Missile Crisis at one time or another in her life but that was before her head was jam packed. After all, she’s the president’s press secretary, she has to be full of, uh, information. Lots of it. Not to mention having to constantly figure out ways to explain what the president really meant while at the same time trying not to forget the Santeria curse that’s supposed to make Helen Thomas invisible.

We often hear that we only use 10% of our brain, which could help explain why our brains get so full so easily. Of course that means the other 90% is filler, empty neurons designed to keep our brain from sloshing around in our skull when we dance. But this is an urban legend. We do, in fact, use our whole brain, which is good since the idea that 90% of our brain is cellular bubble wrap that we can’t put on the floor and roll a chair over is depressing.

But the brain is trapped inside our skull, meaning it can’t get any bigger, so there’s only a finite amount of information it can contain. This explains why we need help remembering the simplest things. Luckily I have all my contacts synced up to my cell phone or I wouldn’t be able to call anyone. I have bookmarks in my browser so I can remember the sites I want to go to, a program that automatically remembers and fills in my passwords — which are all the same, but still — and I single-handedly keep 3M in business with all my Post-It notes.

Having all these helpers means I don’t need to remember any of that information. And I don’t. Which has made me stupider than I would be without the helpers. Honestly, I get afraid that if I put one more piece of information in my head something important like my social security number will fall out my ear. There was something else I was going to say just now but it slipped out when I made a mental note to remember to buy gingko to help my memory. I sure hope I put it in a To-Do list somewhere.

# # # # #

©2007 Barry H. Gottlieb All Rights Reserved.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: His compilation of humorous travel columns, “If It’s Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?” is available from Xlibris Corporation.

Published: Sep 5,2008 20:10
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