I recently had cause to contact, by mail, several old friends whose addresses I no longer had handy in my head or my little address book. Accustomed to a lifetime of being able to simply look in the phone book for that information, I was dismayed when I found that a good many of them were no longer listed. Now, if they were no longer listed, that meant that they had either moved without my knowledge, changed their phone numbers to unpublished ones, or gone completely cellular. I found it difficult indeed to track down their mailing addresses. Some, I never did manage to find.
There was a time when I stored about 30 or 40 phone numbers and addresses in my head; those of people with whom I was in frequent contact. As time passes and I no longer use those numbers so often, I frequently have to look them up and, fortunately, most of the people I need to locate are still listed. The trend, however, is for more and more people to switch to cellular phones and to rely more on email, and most of us tend to have our own little private directories stored in our computers and cell phones. Efficient—yes. Practical—I’m not so sure.
When my computer went bonkers a few years ago, I had the good fortune to find a computer genius who managed to retrieve most of those precious items for me, but I did take the precaution, after that, to make hard copies of those irreplaceable things and those that would require hours of tedious effort to reconstruct. (I also learned at that time that storing them on floppy disks, CD’s or flash drives is no guarantee, either.)
I’m not sure what to do about the phone numbers on my cell phone. If it were lost, stolen, or simply died an untimely death, who could I call for help? All the numbers I need are stored there, and I hate to admit it, but since I don’t have to actually dial those numbers, they are not stored in my head as frequently-used phone numbers have been in the past. Believe me, repetition is the backbone of memorization and if we don’t dial those phone numbers, or write out those mailing addresses fairly often, we soon find that we don’t actually know them. It’s too easy to scroll down to a name, click on it and punch ‘print’. The envelope comes out with the full name, address and zip code, ready to go and we can’t even remember the name of the street because we didn’t have to write it down. There was a day when I could quote you the area code of everyone I phoned more often than twice a year—not just their home number.
Some of you might say that the reason I don’t remember those things has something to do with my aging memory. For your information, my memory is just fine, thank you. Quite some time ago, I had a visit with my doctor, that little Medicare interview designed to test to see if you’re losing it (you know what I mean.) One of the things included in that test is a trio of unrelated words that you are asked to repeat once. Then the interview goes on to other things and, at the end, you are to repeat the three words. This year, I at once recognized the three words as the same ones I was given two years before. I don’t think my memory has deteriorated to any noticeable degree. I do admit that, on rare occasions, I have a little trouble remembering something from the dim past, or something that was relatively insignificant at the time and still seems to be so. Those things are in there, though, as is every fact I’ve ever learned. It’s just that my memory is so crowded with stuff after such a long life, that it takes me longer to sort through them and find whatever it is I’m searching for.
Part of that may be due to the fact that I’ve always been rather untidy, don’t like having to sort through things, and don’t care much if they are in any sort of order or not, so my mental filing system isn’t the most efficient. I have come to think of my memory as a dumpster. There’s lots of stuff in there and it’s rather an adventure to stir around in it and see what pops up. Maybe that’s why I don’t worry about ever running out of ideas. Better than browsing through a Sears catalog.
Getting back to things telephone—I’ve often found that map in the phone book helpful in finding my way around Iowa City. Even though I’ve lived here since I first came to school at the U in 1952, things have grown a lot since then and there are lots of streets I’m not familiar with. Not too long ago, I planned to stop by a friend’s house to drop of a book and, as I had her address but had no idea in what part of town it was located, I checked the city map in the phone book. It wasn’t much help, though. The map was there, but there was no key to help me find that particular street. Hey, you guys, not everybody has GPS in their car.