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Sunday, January 02, 2005

THE mental disease of our times, or how to bring a remote problem under control

We all know the problem. It's a near daily affliction, maybe soon to be recognized as a disease. The symptoms are universal. Roaming the house in growing disorientation, overturning cushions and furniture, snapping at spouses who have no clue, wailing in despair, and all the while progressively doubting our own sanity.

What is this awful mental condition: manic-depression, anxiety attack, dementia, rabies? It has no medical or psychological name, though I gather it will soon be entered into the DSM IV (dimwitted syndrome manual) as the remote control syndrome. The remote control syndrome occurs when we cannot remember where we placed some vitally important object, such as our car keys, glasses, address book, or our TV remote. Because these objects are so important, we understandably take it as a sign of encroaching madness that we can so easily misplace them. Hence, we oblige ourselves by going bonkers.

Not to fear though, for the fault lies not in some mental defect, but rather in a mental asset, our memories. If we had to remember all the stuff we think and do, our little brains would soon freeze up, and end us up as idiot savants babbling forever all the places where we put our lint. No, it is a sign of intelligence to forget things, but forgetfulness has its own logic. Important events need a little time to, well, sink in, and our hurried existence does not give us the few seconds or so to contemplate the possible significance of every single action. So, while thinking about something else, we deposit our remote, keys or other object in a place that even Indiana Jones would find difficult to excavate. Similarly, when we are introduced to people, we immediately forget their names as our attention is directed to other niceties of conversation and etiquette, and end up feeling foolish when later we haven't a clue whom we're talking to.

The solutions alas are as obvious as they are hard to employ in practice. It's hard to slow down to smell the roses, contemplate the remote, or count the keys, and it's a chore to secure all our valuables in their own easily accessed parking garage. But we must try, at least to mitigate our emotional agonies, and the irritation of friends, coworkers, and spouses who question our sanity when we cannot find our stuff. It's a lesson indeed that I hope you will remember.

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