Memory Spans

Memory Spans
Photo by Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash

Imagine recollecting exactly what happened last week or what happened yesterday. Chances are you don’t. So, here’s a conjecture: There are short attention spans and short memory spans.

Attention span is the duration for which your focus on a thing is maintained. Memory span is the duration for which your recollection about a thing is retained. The point is that not only are our attention spans shrinking, but so are our memory spans.

Yet, we remember historic moments in our lives: the time you graduated high-school, your first bucket-list item, the moment when you felt nothing in life could be better.

Intuitively, there’s something to unravel here. From a practical POV, I think it’s about a subtle distinction between two kinds of memory spans: short-term and long-term. Interestingly, though, short-term memory span (STMS) influences our long-term memory span (LTMS). Which is why, they say, first impressions last. What you do in the short-term, say last week, will be forgotten, but it will steer the formation of LTMS.

Imagine you’re at a fine-dining restaurant with somebody who wouldn’t stop talking. A week later, you’re likely to forget what they said but will remember not to go to a fine-dining restaurant with this person again. That’s the simplest example of STMS and LTMS.

But how does this STMS – LTMS interaction correlate with how our brains process memories? We know we rewrite memories. Is it possible, then, to edit our LTMS about a thing or a person? Now, I’m no biologist but it does seem that you can radically alter your LTMS when you want something from this individual.

It’s why some golfers agreed to play in the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tournament, or why Biden fist-bumped MBS, or why international relations and foreign policy seem so contradictory. We conveniently edit our LTMS when we realize that editing it will help us get what we want.

It's funny how we're so good at deception, but more importantly, self-deception. To be aware of this trait is going to be helpful both in the short- and long-run.

Until next time,


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