DELIBERATE FORGETFULNESS

Spectacular memory feats are applauded. One memory champion tells us about his prowess: “My philosophy of life is that a heroic person should be able to withstand about ten years in solitary confinement without getting terribly annoyed.” My purpose is not to deny the virtues of memorisation but solitary confinement, and that too without getting terribly annoyed seems to me a difficult proposition. Some people have the unnecessary appetite of accumulation. Besides knowing about everything, they want to keep everything in their memory space. My experience is that I can’t remember even what I want to remember. Since I forget, I write it down. But then Socrates said, “If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls. They will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer within themselves, but by means of external marks.” Where is the necessity of storing so much information when we can make use of the unlimited external memory space now available with us? Availability of resources is one thing, and its use is another. We take for granted what is available. We read borrowed books, our own books remain unread. We are worried about our fading memory space but we are less worried about our existing memory space. Isn’t it a good idea that unnecessary things lapse into oblivion? We follow a ‘curve of forgetting’. Whenever we store a new piece of information, our memory’s hold on it begins to loosen. But we want to maintain that hold. Since that is not possible after a certain extent, we use external resources like books, videos, and photographs. The more we are dependent upon memory technology, the more we tend to lose memory. It raises another question — does memory technology help forgetfulness or improve memory? I suppose it depends upon how we use our external memory spaces.

We know that books can be used for two purposes: to read and to decorate the bookshelf. When there were fewer books, reading was more intensive and less extensive. Now we have more books and fewer things to remember. Memory technology has made us extensive readers but has reduced our intimacy with knowledge. We are becoming good collectors but bad contemplators of resources. What we need is a better balance between collection and contemplation. We know that we can communicate more extensively through phone or email but the more effective means of communication is personal contact. Many years ago, I learnt from my doctoral work that the mechanism of direct contact removes many hurdles from the path of material transfer. Lesser the resistances, greater the material transfer. Perhaps direct contact can be of some help to reduce deliberate forgetfulness.