Sep
18
2005

The Memory Loss of Young Professionals in Urban America

“Damn, I can’t remember what he said, but I remember it was something important.”

Laura gave me the Raised Eyebrow. “You can’t remember? That was like, only ten minutes ago!”

I sighed. “I know, I know…”

“It’s old age, isn’t it? Your memory is going.” She shook her head sadly with a look of utter resignation. “It’s all over for you, Mike. It’s all over.”

“Thanks for your vote of confidence. Really.”

“I’m merely saying what has to be said. It’s time to face the truth, Mike.”

Now I gave her the Raised Eyebrow. “You’re funny. And so is your face! Ha!”

“Distasteful jokes won’t bring your memory back, grandpa. And you look like The Rock when you try doing the Raised Eyebrow thing.”

“What?” I raised my eyebrow again. “Do I, really?”

“Yup. Just like the Rock, only a memory-lapsing version of him.”

I rubbed my eyes. “You know why my memory isn’t as good as it used to be? It’s because of the complex society in which we live.”

“Oh? Do tell, Mr. Sociologist.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you. Here are Mike’s reasons for the increasing memory loss of young professionals in an urban American life.”

“Great thesis. You should write a paper on this.”

“Or maybe a ramble. Hmm.” I scratched my chin. “Well, okay, so here are my reasons. Reason One: Information Overload.”

“Information Overload? Don’t you mean old age?”

“If you’re going to keep interrupting me,” I cast the Evil Eye, “then I’m not going to tell you.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll keep quiet. Please continue.” She sat back in her seat and regarded me like a sad little puppy. I huffed, then continued.

“Information Overload.” I cleared my throat. “We are being bombarded by more media, messages, and information than previous generations. We have access to way more stored knowledge and information than generations before. Television, the Internet, books, billboards, and even ads in public restrooms, for goodness’ sake. There is more informational stimuli coming into our brains than we can reasonably handle. Therefore, most of that information is going to slip out of our minds. We simply can’t retain it all.”

“Okay, I can buy that.”

“Good, I’m glad I have your approval. Now, Reason Two: Responsibility Overload.”

She chuckled. “Oooo, you have good titles for these.”

“Why thank you. I’m making these all up as I go.”

“Really?” Another Raised Eyebrow. “Impressive, Mike, impressive. Go on.”

“Responsibility Overload. Not only is more information coming at us, but so is more responsibility. Now we have to worry about school loans, car loans, mortgages, life insurance, house insurance, other kinds of insurance, 401ks, IRAs, savings accounts, checking accounts, investment accounts,”—breath—”child care, new age parenting techniques, quality school systems, quality colleges, good careers, new technologies, new wars, dictatorships, terrorists, bombings, weapons of mass destruction, AIDS, new diseases, biological warfare, drugs, teenage pregnancies, violence in video games, violence on television, Social Security, Medicare, pensions, retirement… shall I go on?”

“Gosh Mike, now I’m really depressed.”

“Good. There are a lot of responsibilities and concerns for us nowadays. Our parents didn’t have as many things to worry about. And the kicker is, most of these things aren’t even things we should be worried about! But our society and the media has created a Culture of Worry and all of these things are things we must be worried about now, otherwise we’d be considered uneducated and ignorant citizens.”

“Can you shoot me now? Please? Put me out of my misery.”

“And that’s only Reason Two. Reason Three is Sleep Deprivation.”

Laura rubbed her eyes. “I sure feel tired, although I’m too freaked out and depressed to fall asleep now.”

“That’s exactly it!” I pounded the table. “We’re all too busy or freaked out or worried to sleep. Who ever gets a full eight hours of sleep nowadays? Who?”

“Not me. I got four hours last night.”

“Exactly! I got about six I think. We had less than that during college. Doctors get even less sleep. You know how pre-med students have to do those crazy rotations? Well, I’ve heard that some have to stay awake for a full 36 hours!”

“That’s crazy! I couldn’t stay awake for 36 hours.”

“Do you really want a doctor who’s been awake for 36 hours to treat you? Hells no! But we still force those students to do that. And in the dot-com industry, it was pretty standard to pull all-nighters and code code code all night long. Sleep is seen as an unnecessary task that we need to minimize, so that we can be as productive as possible. This has led to a Culture of Sleep Walkers, or zombies that go through life everyday in a daze. We all need more sleep. Our brains can’t function well without enough sleep.”

Laura bit her lip. “You’ve convinced me. I’m going to sleep for like a week now.”

“And you should! Because that would help with Reason Four too. Increased Stress. All of that extra information and responsibility, combined with a lack of sleep, is adding a foundation of extra stress in all of our lives. Stress is the leading cause of heart attacks and poor health, both physical and mental. We’re all killing ourselves slowly, and we don’t even realize it.”

“You’re totally stressing me out, Mike.”

“Finally, there’s Reason Five: Multitasking.”

“Multitasking?” Laura raised her eyebrow again. “Are we talking about computers now?”

“You really like the Raised Eyebrow thing, don’t you?”

“Maybe I have a chance to become the next Rock.”

I smirked. “You mean like a Rockette?”

“Ha! Funny, Mike. So funny I forgot to laugh.”

“You forgot, huh? See, you’ve got memory loss too!”

She rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine, you’ve caught me. That’s because I’m suffering from information overload, responsibility overload, sleep deprivation, increased stress, and multitasking.”

I nodded solemnly. “You’ve learned well, my young apprentice.”

“So go on. Tell me about Multitasking.”

“Okay, Multitasking. So we’re being forced to diverge our brains onto more and more tasks nowadays. Being able to focus on several different things at once can be a helpful trait. But generally, too many different tasks can begin to wear down one’s productivity. Also, the very nature of multitasking means each task is getting only a part of your attention at any given time. No one task is being done as well as it could be. You’re splitting up your ability to do a great job on one task, into several tasks all done with mediocrity. Computers can multitask well, but human beings aren’t meant to.”

“So I really shouldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time?”

“Hells no! Otherwise, you might die!”

“Aaaahhh!” she screamed and spit out her gum.

“Whoa, I had no idea you were chewing gum this whole time. You hid it well.”

“I’ve learned to hide gum chewing well, so that I can chew gum at work.”

“You chew gum during work?” I scratched my head. “Isn’t that unprofessional?”

“Yea, that’s why I have to hide it.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Do you have any more reasons to your thesis?”

“Nope, that’s all I can think of for now. Five reasons. I think that’s plenty enough.”

“Definitely! Now you’ve gotten me all scared and stressed out and feeling like I just need to lie in bed for the next month or so.”

“And you know what will happen if you do?”

“What?”

“You’ll probably find your memory improving again. You see, without all this extra stimuli, you’ll be able to focus on a smaller set of important things at once. And you’ll be able to perform them much better.”

“I’d also lose my job too.”

“Ah, yes,” I sighed. “That’s the price you’d have to pay for an improved memory.”

“Can’t I just prioritize all of the stimuli and information and responsibilities that I have, so I can focus on the most important ones instead?”

I paused. “Um…” I scratched my head again. “Yea, I guess you can.”

“Aw Mike, did I just blow that entire theory of yours?”

I sat back in my chair in resignation. “Wow, yea, I guess you did. And I thought I had such a well thought-out theory too.”

“Well, maybe you’re still right. And prioritization is simply the answer to the problem your theory poses.”

“Hey, you’re right! You’re a genius!”

“I know,” Laura beamed. “That’s because I’m smart and don’t have memory problems like you do, grandpa.”

. . .

How is your memory?

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  • http://www.mikelee.org/the-memory-loss-of-young-professionals-in-urban-america.html Kelly

    This is completely me! I am 31-years-old and was promoted to a fast-paced, extremely challenging and detailed position managing a team of analysts a couple of years ago. I would be a serious contendor in any national multi-tasking competition as my job requires that extensively, not to mention digging deep into the gorry details of complicated projects to ensure quality and accuracy. That said, I’ve also got to keep an enterprise view and be able to explain all this gorry detail to management and executives.

    I find myself month after month having an increasingly difficult time remembering things. I often joke with my employees that I can’t even remember what I did last week, let alone the day prior, though I am sharp as a tack and am on top of things, not letting even the simplest of responsibilities slide. It was my concern for my perceived long-term memory loss that led me to begin researching memory loss in young and otherwise “mentally healthy” individuals online. I stumbled across this website, a great reassurance that I am not in fact losing my mind, but rather my mind is simply OVERLOADED and nothing stays in my memory long enough to be recorded as a meory, since I’m juggling so much simultaneously. As tasks are completed and spun off the wheel, new tasks are thrown into the mix. There is no time for reflection or committing learnings to permanent memory. I liken this time in my life to the days in high school when I was a short order cook for a local restaurant… I don’t remember that the order before this one was for a burger with no tomato and no mustard, I only care about the 6 orders in front of me NOW.

    Any thoughts on how to “improve” the situation, other than quitting my job?

  • http://www.mikelee.org Mike Lee

    Boy, that’s a tough one. Let me pass on some random bits of advice I’ve gotten about this topic:

    + No one can truly multi-task well. Every time we try to do several things at once, all of those things suffers in quality and lack of undivided attention. So avoid multi-tasking and do your tasks sequentially whenever possible.

    + Some people recommend David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as good books on teaching us how to properly prioritize our workloads (as well as manage our time).

    + Take some time to relax by yourself and your thoughts. If you’re a morning person, wake up an hour earlier and just sit someplace quiet without any distractions. Avoid newspapers or magazines or anything that might make you think about work. If you’re a night person, try the same except at in the afternoon or evening. Or right after work, go someplace alone, like the park or beach.

    + Take a siesta and do a power nap in the late afternoon (3pm-ish). This can be tough to do at work, so you might have to sneak off somewhere, unfortunately.

    + Exercise regularly. Make it part of your regular routine. That may sound like a strange suggestion, especially to someone with an already busy schedule, but exercise strengthens not only the body, but one’s memory.

    + Eat healthy foods, for the same reason as exercising regularly. Fish particularly is known as “brain food” for offering benefits to the brain’s memory capacity.

    + Do fun brain puzzles, like crosswords, sudoku, etc. They provide mental exercise to strengthen the mind.

    + Decrease your workload through prioritization, delegation, and turning away unrealistic work.

    Ironically, I’m writing this as I’m watching TV and doing work. It’s so tough to avoid multi-tasking once it’s part of your life. Sigh. But I hope this helps a little. Good luck!

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