Lights are out down memory lane (part 2)

In my first post on my stumbling down memory lane I gave an introduction to how I believe my memory works and how it affects my life & interactions, below I go in to some more specific situations.

Social situations e.g. many are based on people retelling memories

It’s amazing how when you start realising your brain works in a different way you suddenly start noticing more and more situations where social norms assume a particular way of thinking without most people being aware. Take for instance meeting someone new, you tend to start chatting about things you’ve done right? You bond over shared experiences. You relate stories of things that happened to you. People laugh/ cry/ cheer along with the story. You probably take this for granted. What happens when you don’t have any stories to share? It’s not that you’ve never done anything “interesting”, but you have no detailed memory to fall back on to put the story across in a way that would be engaging. How interesting would hearing about someone’s experience be if they were only able to relate fairly surface level details of an event. How many debates entail relating memories of things? This applies to social situations in both professional & personal lives.

It’s also very baked in to entertainment; books, films, TV quite often have a narrative around someone reliving past events, or how often do they talk about memories making a person who they are? The sci-fi genre often talks about downloading people’s memories in to other bodies/ machines.


Not only can memories be used as an implicit ice breaker, but quite often they are used explicitly so: have you ever done a team building exercise, or joined a new company, where they ask you to describe an experience from you past? This can make things more stressful for someone that can’t relate these. It gets even worse when you are interviewing; how many job applications/ interview processes ask you to describe a particular situation when you did X? I may be able to come up with something but it could be quite a shallow description, which adds to the pressure of an interview… are they thinking I’m making it up as I can’t really describe it, or describe how I felt in the situation?

Past, present, & future relationships*

As I mentioned previously, memories are often used as an ice breaker in new social situations, or people you don’t know very deeply, but it’s similar in long lasting relationships. How many relationships do you maintain because of past shared experiences? “Remember that time we…” etc. Now try to imagine long relationships without this glue, it’s probably hard to even imagine. I can tell you from experience, it makes it much harder to maintain things. Again, this might at first seem like only a negative. I disagree, a positive side of this is bad or toxic relationships are less likely to be prolonged because of shared good memories, grudges aren’t held as long/ as deeply (granted this also opens you up to being taken advantage of). It’s almost an inbuilt protection against the sunk cost fallacy in some situations. Relationships are only maintained with activity from both sides, or the interaction as it currently is, there is less reliance, for good and bad, on credit in a social bank.

Another side to this is that people I click with, or even just more generally meet for a short time, are almost instantly the same in my head as people I’ve known for years. I can build up fairly deep relationships with people relatively quickly. To me this is generally a positive, but again, when viewed through someone’s different lens things can be misconstrued. I know I can come across as being too familiar with people I’ve just met, messaging people I haven’t known very long too much as only older friends(?) would (also related to my reduced timeline in my head, see other post). Past relationships might atrophy, but then if it’s someone I click with then it’s very likely to return very quickly once the relationship starts again, not because I can bring past memories with them to support it, but because I click with them in the moment.

*relationships in the broad sense, including friendships, colleagues etc.

Live in the moment

I tend to live in the moment, and I think a large amount of this is due to my lack of episodic memory. I can’t dine off of past experiences by reliving them, even by going back and viewing pictures or videos, I have to constantly be doing things (gigs, travelling etc.) to keep experiencing things/ keep things interesting. I don’t really have nostalgia for things, which means I’m more likely to do something e.g. listen to music, that I enjoy in the here and now, rather than doing something because it reminds me of a past memory/ time in my life.

No timeline in my head

A side effect of how my memory works is that I have much less of a timeline in my head; things that have happened within the last year/ few months are pretty equivalent to things that happened years ago. The ordering of events can also be off.

Moving on from events, both happy & sad, quickly

I move on from events very quickly, both happy and sad. I think on the sad side it can be split in to two types:

  • standalone sad/ painful events
  • sad events with a past attached to them e.g. a breakup

In the first type, I very quickly lose the attachment to the emotions that I felt in the situation, even if I “remember” the event itself.

In the second situation, and this may sound quite sad to some, but I effectively have a much lower emotional bank balance with someone; I don’t really have the past experiences to remind me of them to make me feel sad (the flip side being I also don’t have the happy memories of experiences with someone)

I hope these posts have helped explain me a little to some, and still been informative to others who don’t know me. Please do reach out with any comments and questions, or to counter that I don’t behave in the ways I’ve described! I also don’t want to use any of this an excuse for behaving in a crappy way, so call me out on it if I do, it probably wasn’t intentional…

My parting request to readers: don’t assume everyone is perceiving life in the same way that you are, take the time to step back and see if their different lens is leading to a misunderstanding, or serving to exclude them. An extension to this, which isn’t really directly related to my memory, but will serve you well “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”/ “Listen to understand, not to form a response/ retort”

If you want to come work for an awesome company that gives you time & flexibility for personal development, we’re hiring.

Further reading:

As far as I can tell, it’s episodic memory that I lack.

Wired article that resonated with me and prompted me to start thinking about it more.

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