Feb 8, 2008
And You Are Who Again?
Maybe you've had this experience. You see someone you know or at least should recognize, but don't you recognize them, because they are not in the normal context you see them in. Get it? I didn't think so. Say you go to a bakery every week and on most of your visits you are served by the same person. You never get chatty with this person except to exchange pleasantries. And maybe this goes on for months or even years. Then one day you are in the doctor's waiting room and the person sitting directly across from you suddenly asks how you've been, like they know you or something. Maybe this person even looks vaguely familiar, but you have no clue who it is. If the person has actual social graces, he or she might remind you about where you know them from. If not, you may remember later that it is the clerk from the bakery. It happens to me all the time and I used to worry about it. The problem is context. I think most of our remembering relies on context. We often cannot recall a specific detail unless we have some other details surrounding it. Walk into the bakery and you will recognize the clerk one hundred percent of the time. Out in the non bakery world, not so often. Remembering is turning out to be a trick business. More and more research is showing that most of what we remember is just stuff we think we remember, given the context. For instance, about 80% of wrongful convictions are based upon bad eyewitness identification. Usually the eyewitnesses aren't overtly lying, they just don't remember what they think they do. They use a context, say a mugging they witness and they fill in the details as they think they should be. Often, some poor schmuck gets cast in the role of bad guy in these recollections. So, why do I bore you with this? Because today I was on the "didn't get recognized" end of the deal and it is not that big an ego boost. Of course, the hurt of not being recognized is relative. If Larry the Bug Guy doesn't recognize me at the mall, it's not such a deal. If your own mother doesn't recognize you at your son's wedding it is a bit more personal. Not that I'm say that really happened to Mrs. Sneed or anything. We have lived in Casa Sneed since May of 1995 and since sometime later in 1995 a woman has lived across the street and over a couple of houses. Over the years I have spoken to her on any number of occasions. In fact, a few months ago she was having a problem with her neighbor and we exchanged phone numbers in case she needed help right away. If I see her at the mailbox she calls me by name for Pete's sake. This morning I was making keys for someone at the store and when that customer left, up walked my neighbor. She tossed the keys on the counter and announce that she needed them copied. It seemed odd to me. As I made the first key I casually asked her how her neighbor was doing. She looked at me for probably the first time since she walked up, and gave me this puzzled, squinty-eyed, who are you and don't let me catch you looking in my windows, sicko, kind of look. Finally, she asked me what neighbor I was talking about? I replied that I meant the crazy woman who bought Rob and Karen's house. She stared at me, I stared at her and both realized that she had no idea that I was me. Except now she did, because I gave her a context to remember. See, I thought I was a distinguished older guy who is frankly, pretty unforgettable. It turns out that if you stick me in the middle of the cul-de-sac bothering passersby I am. Take me out of my normal environment and I'm just another old guy in a red vest. To her at least. Things in this blog represented to be fact, may or may not actually be true. The writer is frequently wrong, sometimes just full of it, but always judgmental and cranky