By Jim Kempton

Frequently in my later life, there is a moment during a group discussion when one of the conversationalists will be unable to recall someone or something. Where was that? What the heck was his name? After a short but fruitless effort, the conversation continues. But often in the next few minutes someone will shout out “Robert from Newport! His name was Robert Dooly!” Why wasn’t that name recalled by our brain’s memory immediately? Why did it take five whole minutes for the data to appear? What was our brain doing anyway?

The answer I surmise is: It was searching for files.

Let’s face it, computers were made in our image, or at least in the image of our brains and nervous systems. We think that because computers process massive bits of data that they are much better than us at doing so. But in reality, our minds process millions of bits of data all the time as well, and spend a lot less time sleeping. The vital daily necessities are center screen on the desktop. But for most data we take in, our brains hit the delete button or at least file the info somewhere deep. Often we send a command and the content is not in the place we think. Hence, the brain goes searching for files.

Why can’t we remember things as well? As we get older, according to my totally unsubstantiated opinion, we just have too much content to properly store. When we were 6 years old, we could keep our entire world on the desktop. And those files remain on the desktop eternally. Meanwhile, the 2017 file already has 47 sub-files and thousands of massive documents. With no room left, it isn’t even on the desktop.

Case in point: Isn’t it interesting how many of us can blurt the name of our first-grade teacher but draw a blank about the last three people we were introduced to this morning? Why can we summon up the family phone number from 30 years ago but have no idea what password accesses our current bank account? I mean, I know my short-term memory is bad, but then so is my short-term memory, right?

Maybe it’s the lack of RAM, an inability to conflate so many ideas at once, resulting in a spiraling rainbow wheel in my mind. Some memories should be like certain acquaintances on Facebook; they just need to be un-friended. On the bright side, a bad memory means being able to watch Netflix films a second time and still be in suspense.

Computers of course are as old as Adam and Eve. They had an Apple but very limited memory—just one byte and then the whole network crashed. We’ve been rebooting ever since. And searching, ever searching, for files.

Jim Kempton owned one of the first little Macintosh boxes with a local dial-up connection and remembers when a center-spread of Surfer Magazine took two minutes to load. His searching-for-files-wheel seems to revolve unexplainably slower each year.

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