Here is a test. Find a pencil and a scrap of paper and draw the Apple logo. Easy, no? Now compare your sketch to the real thing.
If you are like me, or like 98.8 per cent of a sample recently tested by psychologists at UCLA, you failed. Almost everyone either puts the bite on the wrong side, draws two leaves instead of one, or in some other way bungles the simple job of reproducing an image we have all seen thousands of times.
Not only are we unable to sketch one of the most famous logos on earth, most of us cannot even pick out the real thing when we see it in an identity parade of lookalikes.
Why is this? The researchers talk of “attentional saturation” and “inattentional amnesia”, but I think it is simpler than that. We cannot recall it because we do not have to.
For me, the Apple logo falls into a large collection of things that I do not need to remember.
Increasingly, practically everything belongs in this category. At home there are a few things I still need to remember, such as buying more shampoo when we have run out and filling out a form for my son’s school trip. But at work I can safely forget almost everything — apart from one big thing and one little thing. Otherwise the slate can be wiped clean. Workplace memory has been entirely outsourced to the computer.
In theory, this means remembering my computer password, though in fact the help desk has often bailed me out when I’ve forgotten it. There is no need to remember any facts thanks to Google, all appointments are now online, and everything anyone ever said is easily found on an email somewhere.
A possible exception is corporate memory, which tends to be stored in heads rather than on clouds, but few corporations show much demand for that any more. Today’s decision makers do not welcome protestations from old geezers who can remember that such and such was tried before and didn’t work. Yesterday is an irritant.
So what are the two things we do need to remember at work? The small thing is the location of one’s vending cards/security passes. I try to make this easier by wearing mine on a string around my neck, although even this is not a complete solution as I sometimes take the card off the string, forget to put it back and then have to hunt around for it.
The big thing is recognising other people. Clearly, it is an advantage if you can remember someone’s name but, as failing to do so is commonplace, the penalty is fairly small. The vital thing is remembering faces and incidental detail about them.
I recently went to see Still Alice , the film in which Julianne Moore plays an academic with early onset Alzheimer’s. When she forgets a word in a lecture it is briefly embarrassing, but she makes a joke and recovers quickly. Getting lost on a run is worse, but the real horror is when she can’t remember her son’s girlfriend, having just been introduced to her 15 minutes earlier.
不久前我去看了电影《依旧爱丽丝》(Still Alice)，朱丽安?摩尔(Julianne Moore)在片中饰演一名有早期阿尔茨海默病(Alzheimer’s, 即老年性痴呆)症状的学者。她在演讲中忘记了一个词，有一瞬间感觉非常尴尬，于是她开了一个玩笑，就不再感觉难为情了。更糟糕的是跑步时迷失方向，但最可怕的是，他儿子刚向她介绍了我们的女友，15分钟后她就忘记儿子的女友是哪个了。
You don’t need to have Alzheimer’s to forget a face, and when you do so at work it matters. Recently I met a man at a corporate event who had been at university with me and seemed to know a great deal about my life. Having no recollection of him at all put me at such a disadvantage that when he asked me to do him a favour I was wrongfooted into saying yes.
Equally, not long ago I ran into a senior executive with whom I had had an hour’s meeting five or six years ago. When I greeted him warmly he stared back blankly, evidently confident that we had never met. Possibly this meant nothing more than that his memory was poor, but I took it personally — as one inevitably does. Either I had aged so badly in five years that I was unrecognisable, I reasoned, or I had been too dull to remember. Neither one good.
The ability to remember people strikes me as a bigger asset than emotional intelligence at work. Most of us don’t especially want empathy in the office, but everyone wants to be remembered. The more someone is able to recall chapter and verse of all small talk exchanged at previous meetings, the more you are inclined to like and trust them. It is not just a skill for politicians: it’s for everyone.
One day, probably very soon, wearable technology will do the job for us by recognising faces and connecting them to a database of trivia. But by then it will be worthless. The reason we want people to remember us is because it is so hard to do so.
If the computer does the remembering, the value of it becomes zero. No one wants to be remembered per se. We want to be remembered because it is a sign that another human being sees us as a valued inpidual, not just another interchangeable employee.