Thursday, February 28, 2008

Erase your memory? No, thanks, I already have.

In Psych 101, you learn about the Zeigarnik effect, a principle affecting memory. The Zeigarnik effect describes the situation in which you remember incomplete tasks better than completed ones. It's named after a psychologist named Bluma Zeigarnik, who noted that waiters would remember an order while they were still serving it but forget it immediately afterward.

Although my memory clings with a desperate grasp to annoying commercials, random bits of doggerel (why couldn't I have memorized as much of Paradise Lost as I have of pointless song lyrics?), and times when I made a stupid mistake, it's a complete sieve about some things.

Today, I was talking with a colleague about Significant but Not Required Invited University Social Event. "I thought I saw your name on the list," he said. "Aren't you going?" I had a virtually identical conversation with another colleague later. "Didn't you receive the invitation?" he asked. "I thought your name was on the list."

Uh oh. The thing is, I might have received the invitation, or I might not have received it. Like all faculty members, I get a lot of, let's say, not immediately relevant mail on glossy cardstock from other places in the university. "Come help us celebrate the 150th anniversary of the invention of the shoelace," one might read, or "Please come and support our cause at this dinner for only $100 a head."

I look at them, and, if they require an RSVP, I respond. Action taken. Task completed. Task forgotten.

This also happens if I respond to something like a survey or a ballot of some sort. "Did you complete our survey?" goes the reminder. Beats me. Dr. Zeigarnik would be proud.

So, in short, I may have committed a faux pas by receiving an invitation and not responding, or I may not have received an invitation at all, or--and here is the scary part--I may have responded and completely forgotten it. If I did this on paper, it won't be in the sentmail folder so I can check, either.

Welcome to the road company of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Mind.

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