In many ways I have given up trying to store too much information in my own head, and have started using the world and other people as a kind of external hard-drive.
My personal ability to cope with processing new input has reduced considerably over the past few years with the CFS/ME. It’s not just my body that becomes tired if I start using it excessively; it’s my brain too.
Information Overload has become a real problem. Faced with too many things I have to remember or deal with, my system crashes and I cease to be able to function properly. I become very tired and emotionally fragile.
I’ve even found, when watching a documentary, science or nature programme on TV in the evening, that the more interesting and fascinating I find it, the quicker my eyes get heavy and I start drifting off.
One coping strategy I’ve been developing in more recent times has been making instant decisions on whether a new piece of information is relevant or not. And if it isn’t, quite simply I don’t attempt to store it.
You can chat to me about your new puppy’s toilet habits, your child’s exam results, or even some life-changing event you are about to embark upon, but if I decide in that instant that this is not life-changingly important to me, then I won’t dwell on it or attempt to remember. The chances are you could tell me the same thing next week, word for word, and I won’t realise.
It’s not that I don’t care – I would love to be able to store and recall the conversation for the next time we meet - it’s simply that I’m having to learn to prioritise as a survival method. Otherwise it becomes a bit like that scene in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where the computer on the spaceship isn’t taking evasive action to avoid the missiles hurtling towards it, because it’s too busy trying to work out how to synthesize a cup of tea for the Earthman on board.
If I deem it is important, then I will write it down in a notebook I usually have in my jacket pocket. This isn’t a completely reliable method as I frequently forget to look at my notebook - when I get home and step through the front door, I will take off my jacket and hang it up, thereby rendering it and its contents no longer relevant to my thoughts.
It’s not uncommon, while waiting for someone or something, I will root out my notebook and start looking through it. Often I will find things I have no memory of writing whatsoever, or things that are now irrelevant, because the time when I should have dealt with it has long gone – a bit like finding expired money-off coupons at the back of the kitchen drawer.
But I also use other people’s brains for storage and retrieval. When in conversation with someone who asks me if I can do something for them, I tell them they will need to email me to remind me. When I am at the computer, I always check my email, so if a reminder is there on the screen in front of me, I am far more likely to deal with it.
Again, this is not the most reliable of systems. Partly this is because my inbox can fill up quite quickly and stuff not already dealt with gets pushed further down the page and forgotten about. I often need reminding more than once.
However, I’ve also come to realise that I’m not alone with this problem. It seems many people have difficulties remembering to do what they said they would - including those who promised to email me.
Businesses are developing technology all the time to make money from our inability to order our memories. These days most people carry a phone on them that is also a notebook, a directory, an appointment diary and an alarm clock. And if they lose their phone, the behave like they have lost half their brain and no longer appear to be able to function clearly.
I’m beginning to think my problem is just a slightly more acute version of something nearly everyone has. The big difference is I’m admitting to it.