Do you remember your first bike, the one you loved to race with your friends, streamers flying from the handlebars as the wind whipped through your hair?
Memory can be a tricky thing. Personally, I have a fairly unreliable one. On some days, I can remember in great detail exactly what I felt or saw on a specific day 27 years ago. But other times, I can’t even remember the name of a person I met only a few days previously.
It’s not just me. People around the world are fascinated by human memory – how it works, how it can be improved, how it can fail.
Academic institutions are studying memory closely to try to gain a better understanding of what it is and how it works.
And their studies are proving fruitful. Researchers keep learning new things. Like that the technology that we use is changing the way we remember (read articles here and here).
Or that maybe we just need to shock our memory into action.
And then there are the social scientists who have come to recognize that memory isn’t always a private, personal kind of thing.
Anthropologists will tell you about cultural memory; psychologists might explain collective memories.
This isn’t just an academic debate. Studies in Eastern European societies in the late 1990s, as nations were moving away from communist regimes and forming democratic governments, found that cultural memories had a direct impact on how people were choosing to govern themselves. My first book in the Adam Kaminsky series takes place in just that setting, where some people are trying very hard to forget what they did under the previous regime, while others are trying very hard to ferret it out. (My book ONE MONTH also touches on failures in memory – though in that case, the forgetfulness is an intentional human creation.)
Every time I read up about memory, I find another interesting fact I hadn’t known before. For example, that having a college degree is helpful in preserving your memory later in life.
I never knew that. Or maybe I did and just forgot …