When Too Much Information is Enough

Submitted by Karen Arena, Xerox public relations consultant

This past weekend, my husband and I were preparing the backyard for summer; planting annuals, putting up the trampoline, washing the lawn furniture…the list goes on. At one point we discussed something (I’ve forgotten the actual subject), but I said “We’ll do it like last year.”

My husband said, “Do you think I remember? I just can’t keep all this information in my head. My brain requires room for the important stuff I really need to remember.” That got me thinking about what we keep in our brains, and asking, “How does the brain decide what to remember and what to throw away?”  

I confess, I forget a lot. For example, it haunts me that after almost every concert I attend, I can’t recall the playlist. Is this happening because it’s not important enough for me to keep the playlist inside my brain? 

I went to one of my favorite NPR programs, RadioLab, looking for an explanation. They did a show on memory and remembering. The scientists they polled say that memory is “creative.” We construct, paint and put bits and pieces of experience into a “recollection” or a memory. Every time you remember something, you’re actually recreating it as a brand new memory — an act of imagination — the more you remember, the less accurate it becomes. Whew, heavy stuff.

It was a great listen, but didn’t answer whether we can force ourselves to erase memories in order to make room to store more important information. New research from Tsinghua University, in Beijing, suggests the brain forgets things on purpose. And when faced with large amounts of new information — or Information Overload — the brain’s chemicals speed up their work in removing memories. I KNEW IT! My husband’s so smart. He could have told those scientists what’s happening in the human brain without endless study!  

But can we be in better charge of our own memories; can we really dictate the business of our brain?    

I just hope someone comes up with creative ways to help me recall that playlist. I’m going to see Bon Jovi in 8 days!

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One Comment

  1. Susan Vasile May 18, 2010 - Reply

    Hi Karen I really enjoyed this, we can all relate to memory loss (ha, ha)! And Bon Jovi is really very soothing and nice on the eyes! See you at Bingo. xoxo Susan

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