For Mankind’s sake, remember that anniversary

The depth of our intelligence hinges on our ability to remember things but technology advancement is making us having to lose the ability to survive without them

IT HAPPENED again last week, when I found myself standing in the middle of the kitchen not remembering why I was there. 

I looked at the cat for clues but it only looked back at me for a micro-second and then resumed licking itself. 

Being worried about the thought that I was “losing it”, I called my general practitioner friend who told me it was probably nothing and was common among men of my age. 

Men of my age? What did he mean by that? Women don’t forget?

I guess it happens for most men because men do not have to remember things because their other half, women, are so much better at it (so much so that even when I’m convinced that my version of what happened is absolutely true, I would defer to She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.)

I had often wondered why she had total recall of my life even to the minute of me once forgetting an anniversary. Other things that I don’t remember but she does impeccably include kid’s birthdays, wedding invites and taking out the rubbish. 

For the longest time, I suspected that she had selective Hyperthymia — the inability to forget any of your man’s transgressions. It has to be selective because she could remember every alleged wrong I’ve ever committed since 1998, but have problems remembering anything I’ve done right for example.

Then I noticed that she never keeps things in her phone. She would write them down, the Luddite that she is, and file it somewhere, probably in a safe deposit box at the bank.

Me? I would put everything on my Google calendar. Even my contacts list is somewhere in the “Cloud”. Heck, with a phone in your hand you don’t even have to remember to bring your wallet nowadays. The roadside stall will accept any of the million of ways to pay via phone. You just need to put your thumb on the phone screen to authorise your bank to pay for your nasi lemak with extra sotong.

It’s so efficient that all you need to remember when leaving the house is your phone because you can access your life on it and that seems to be the root of my problem.

Turns out that scientists are quite aware of people forgetting why they went to the kitchen. They even have a name for it — Digital Amnesia — and we as a human race are going the wrong way in using our brains.

They argue that the depth of our intelligence hinges on our ability to remember things like birthdays and phone numbers and using those numbers to connect information, and as more and more things are stored off-site from our memory, we will lose the ability to survive without technology. 

It’s comforting to know that I’m not losing my mind by myself and its technology that’s doing it. At least I remember that I used to remember things.

The first thing I remember to have forgotten are telephone numbers. I remember being able to dial phone numbers of family members, the home phone, the baker’s etc that would total about 20 or so, but since the handphone, the only number that I can confidently remember is 999. I can’t even recall who calls me if the phone doesn’t match it with a name. 

I have never been one of those who carry birthdays in my head, but at least I would make it a point to look up in my calendar. Now I have Facebook to do it for me.

The next thing I cannot do now is maths. You know the simple things you need it for, like currency conversion or calculating how much you’re going to save during sales? That’s long gone when all you need to do is punch in the numbers and your phone will tell you. Even today, kids are asking why they need to add numbers at school when you don’t need it.

Driving. I cannot drive without Waze now since I have delegated all the anxiety of thinking of where I’m going to that. Even if I’m driving home on a familiar route that I’ve taken a million times, I’d still put on Waze, not to mention when you’re trying to avoid the big Chap Goh Mei-induced traffic jam on the PLUS highway even though you’d be taken through unknown frontiers and dark jungle roads. 

As total reliance on Waze has now rendered me useless at co-piloting on driving to family weddings, dinner appointments and gender-reveals, it has also made taken away my ability to give directions to lost tourists other than “Do you have Waze?”.

The last time I attempted to give directions using a street map to a Japanese tourist at the Central Market, we must’ve walked 3km before ending at the same spot where we started. The place she was looking for, a backpacker’s hostel, was on the second floor above the mamak restaurant. All we had to do was look up.

Now that I know I have Digital Amnesia, I just ignore tourists when they ask for directions.

  • ZB Othman is an editor at The Malaysian Reserve.