too much information

There’s a scene in The Kominsky Method, that wry Netflix study of septuagenarians, when recently widowed bitter sweet Alan Arkin turns to the man behind the wheel, his thespian best friend Michael Douglas, and with an expression of despair says:

“You’re talking to someone and you need a word to finish your thoughts. A simple word. Nothing out of the ordinary and it’s missing. Just gone…”

“Oh yeah,” says Douglas grimly recognising the scene, “…I think I fear it worse than cancer. It’s like that guy. Oh shit, what’s his name?”

“Whose name?” replies Arkin.

“You know, the guy with the thing.”

“What thing?”

Sound familiar? It’s the conversation stopper I and millions of others have pulled up on countless times; a ‘senior moment’ they chime. An inopportune loss of memory immediately attributed to old age; that’s anyone over 50. Like forgetting the name of the lame deputy in everyone’s favourite John Wayne western, Rio Bravo?

you know…it’s what’s his face, thingummy whatshisname…

Previously such questions – who, what, when, where or how? – would remain unresolved due to the fact that by the time we’re alone, intent upon looking up whatever it was we couldn’t remember, we’ve forgotten what it was we’d needed to remember to look up. Complicated isn’t it?

Nowadays people of a certain age (don’t you hate that phrase) turn to their smart phones for  gratification. Unless you’re drinking with my octogenarian friend (soon to be, what’s the word? Oh yes, nonagenarian) That There Sonia Morgan, with a brain sharper than a switchblade in which case all digital prompters are forbidden. “Put it away,” she’ll shriek. She doesn’t do French wine either: “Delicious, but it gives me a hangover.”

Long pregnant pauses at the end of sentences spiralling into a vortex of the forgotten. “It’s an age thing,” was the response I received from a friend older than I and who ought to have known better. Going on to repeat the mantra that anyone of a ‘certain agehas to face up to the fact that their brain just isn’t as sharp as it was. So, we’re greyer, less fit, out of work, prone to going to the lavatory in the middle of the night and as if that’s not bad enough, we can’t finish our sentences.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and the problem with growing old, if indeed it is a problem, is not diminished brain function – it’s too much information. That’s it – we’re overloaded with too much information. We know so much our brains are log jammed with useless data. A lifetime of knowledge, big and small and often entirely irrelevant, there in our heads, whirring around searching for meaning. Two perhaps three plus generations of education, newspapers, radio and television, literature, banter, cinema and music, and love and marriage and work. Finding that elusive word amid all of that is akin to picking a specific ping pong ball out of the FA Cup prize draw; there are too many. 

Don’t take my word for it. How about a second opinion? Non other than Sherlock Holmes who insists our brains are finite and shouldn’t be cluttered with the unnecessary.

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose,” he muses in ‘A Study In Scarlet. 

“A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it…” Told you –  Too much information.

Every computer slows down eventually – no matter how big or expensive. They clog up and plod, thinking longer and harder before each function. We’ve all sat staring at that round turning thing on the screen, a sign that the machine of the future is having a stone age moment. That’s how computers work. They process. It’s why we clean up our untidy desktops, reboot our hard drives, update the software and more often than not either trash unwanted files or transfer them to an external drive. Then they work like their old selves, digitally leaner and fitter, and above all faster. Call it spontaneity. It has nothing to do with its age. You can overstretch a computer straight out the box if you throw enough information at it.

What we need to find is a method of ditching too much information – all that extraneous life stuff that at crucial moments (usually surrounded by friends awaiting a punchline)  impairs our memory and leaves us flat. 

Life was easier (excuse the Millennial cliche)  back in the day. For one thing there was less to think about. We worked, we ate, we drank beer and tried to stay warm. End of story. Now we work harder, eat and drink much more, and additionally waste hours shopping on the internet, comparing review and price sites and giving points out of ten for the person who sold us whatever it was we don’t really need anyway. It’s a synapse jungle out there and it’s getting more impenetrable by the gigabyte. And that’s before all the lies.

Imagine how much quicker our minds would be, how much sharper our repartee if we didn’t know how to use a percolator or a car crank handle or what Half Crowns and Black Forest Gateaux are? In 2019 I don’t need to know how to convert pounds shillings and pence into new pence? It’s the equivalent of 20GB of pet and wedding photographs and selfies that we’ll never look at again. Dump ‘em. Get smart and never again have to spend minutes trying to come up with…Walter Brennan; he’s the lame deputy in Rio Bravo. 

As Sherlock says: “…depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.” If I could I’d high…something or other with the sleuth.

Meanwhile in the vintage Mercedes Alan Arkin is still trying to figure out what this thing is that the guy has who Michael Douglas is talking about?

“What thing?”

“The thing they use to harvest crops.”

“A tractor?”

“No!”

“Mexican people.”

“No – the Grim Reaper.” 

End of story. 

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