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Thinly Read

Processing information...the useless kind
Scripps Howard News Service


December 05, 2005

Just the other day, while avoiding actual work, I came across this interesting headline: "Ignoring Useless Information Aids Memory". Immediately after reading this headline, I knew I would never forget such an intriguing fact about human memory. And about an hour after reading this headline, I realized I had missed an important meeting.

I did not, at the time, put two and two together.

Beneath the headline, an article explained that people with a high capacity for memory don't necessarily have more storage room; rather, they are better able to filter out what's important and what's not. Good information in, useless information out. If there's any truth to the article, it suggests that the reason I personally struggle with appointments, deadlines, and deliverables in the workplace is not because there is too much office minutiae in my head, but because I can't ignore the irrelevant.

See, I don't sweat the small stuff. I log it away for my future, fated "Jeopardy" appearance when I will devastate the competition - send them crying from their podiums into Alex's arms - with my overwhelming surplus of pointless knowledge.

The less practical purpose it serves, the more likely I will remember it. I know Radar O'Reilly's favorite drink (Grape Nehi) and first name (Walter), the original working title of the Beatles classic "Yesterday" (Scrambled Eggs), and what a Chitlin' actually is (you don't want to know). Were it not for the limitations of traditional newspaper typesetting, I could diagram this very sentence for both structure and meter.

And every year, Mom has to tell me that Dad's birthday is coming up.

A long time ago, I realized that learning everything about everything would require a lifetime's dedication and the total sacrifice of any kind of physical relationship with the opposite sex. Instead, I've tried to learn (begin ital) something (end ital) about everything. As a result, I am much better at Trivial Pursuit, and much worse at remembering anything important.

I am equally terrible with birthdays and anniversaries. I could visit the same house eight dozen times as a passenger and never find it myself as a driver. And names. If we were just introduced, I don't remember your name. If we were in the same class together in college, I don't remember your name. If we have been dating for over a year, I have moved all my things into your apartment, and I'm still referring to you as "Girlfriend" or "Baby," well... nevermind, Baby.

I remember what interests me, and it seems that I'm only interested in the trivial. In life's small potatoes. When it comes to writing, a divine curse like this has its advantages. But in the office, when it comes to 9 a.m. budget meetings and 5 p.m. proposal deadlines, nobody really cares to know who lived in Xanadu (Kubla Khan and Citizen Kane, respectively).

Every time I missed a meeting or blanked in front of a spreadsheet, I assumed that I had maxed out my mental hard-drive with pointless knowledge. But apparently, the trivial facts and important deadlines aren't fighting for space in my head - they're fighting over who gets the attention.

So I guess it's just a matter of discipline. I just have to train myself to ignore the unnecessary during office hours, to save the so-called "useless" information for my ultimate "Jeopardy" conquest. Soon enough, I'll be the master of my daily planner and the envy of my khakied co-workers.

Yes, soon enough. But first... first I'm going to read a few more articles. This is some pretty interesting stuff.


Ben Grabow writes for the young, the urban, and the easily amused.
Contact him at thinlyread(at)

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