This is just so embarrassingly bad. On so many levels:
David Brooks: The Great Forgetting: They say the 21st century is going to be the Asian Century, but, of course, it’s going to be the Bad Memory Century. Already, you go to dinner parties and the middle-aged high achievers talk more about how bad their memories are than about real estate. Already, the information acceleration syndrome means that more data is coursing through everybody’s brains, but less of it actually sticks. It’s become like a badge of a frenetic, stressful life — to have forgotten what you did last Saturday night, and through all of junior high.
In the era of an aging population, memory is the new sex.
Society is now riven between the memory haves and the memory have-nots. On the one side are these colossal Proustian memory bullies who get 1,800 pages of recollection out of a mere cookie-bite. They traipse around broadcasting their conspicuous displays of recall as if quoting Auden were the Hummer of conversational one-upmanship. On the other side are those of us suffering the normal effects of time, living in the hippocampically challenged community that is one step away from leaving the stove on all day.
This divide produces moments of social combat. Some vaguely familiar person will come up to you in the supermarket. “Stan, it’s so nice to see you!” The smug memory dropper can smell your nominal aphasia and is going to keep first-naming you until you are crushed into submission.
Your response here is critical. You want to open up with an effusive burst of insincere emotional warmth: “Hey!” You’re practically exploding with feigned ecstasy. “Wonderful to see you too! How is everything?” All the while, you are frantically whirring through your memory banks trying to anchor this person in some time and context.
A decent human being would sense your distress and give you some lagniappe of information — a mention of the church picnic you both attended, the parents’ association at school, the fact that the two of you were formerly married. But the Proustian bully will give you nothing. “I’m good. And you?” It’s like trying to get an arms control concession out of Leonid Brezhnev.
Your only strategy is evasive vagueness, conversational rope-a-dope until you can figure out who this person is. You start talking in the tone of over-generalized blandness that suggests you have recently emerged from a coma.
Sensing your pain, your enemy pours it on mercilessly. “And how is Mary, and little Steven and Rob?” People who needlessly display their knowledge of your kids’ names are the lowest scum of the earth.
You’re in agony now, praying for an episode of spontaneous combustion. But still she drives the blade in deeper, “That was some party the other night wasn’t it?”
You lose vision. What party? Did you see this person at a party? By now, articulation is impossible. You are a puddle of gurgling noises and awkward silences. After the longest of these pauses, she goes for the coup de grâce: “You have no idea who I am, do you?”
You can’t tell the truth. That would be an admission of social defeat. The only possible response is: “Of course, I know who you are. You’re the hooker who hangs around on 14th Street most Saturday nights.”
The dawning of the Bad Memory Century will have vast consequences for the social fabric and the international balance of power. International relations experts will notice that great powers can be defined by their national forgetting styles. Americans forget their sins. Russians forget their weaknesses. The French forget that they’ve forgotten God. And, in the Middle East, they forget everything but their resentments.
There will be new social movements and causes. The supermarket parking lots will be filled with cranky criminal gangs composed of middle-aged shoppers looking for their cars. As it becomes clear that a constant stream of blog posts and e-mails decimates the capacity for recall, people will be confronted with the modern Sophie’s choice — your BlackBerry or your mind.
Neural environmentalists will emerge from the slow foods movement, urging people to accept memory loss as a way to reduce their mental footprint. Meanwhile, mnemonic gurus will emerge offering to sell neural Viagra, but the only old memories the pills really bring back will involve trigonometry.
As in most great historical transformations, the members of the highly educated upper-middle class will express their suffering most loudly. It is especially painful when narcissists suffer memory loss because they are losing parts of the person they love most. First they lose the subjects they’ve only been pretending to understand — chaos theory, monetary policy, Don Delillo — and pretty soon their conversation is reduced to the core stories of self-heroism.
Their affection for themselves will endure through this Bad Memory Century, but their failure to retrieve will produce one of the epoch’s most notable features: shorter memoirs.
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?