Column Date 2006-10-20

Are we slowly losing our minds?

Back in the industrial age, people talked about their brains as if they were machines. They said things like “Your memory’s getting rusty,” and “Get your brain in gear.”

Today, in the computer age, we refer to our brains as if they’re computers: the more information we “input,” the fewer megabytes of storage we have left in our brain’s random access memory.

In fact, I suspect that our brain’s memory chips have become completely filled with the billions of bits of information we get every day from the internet, satellite radio, hundreds of cable channels, podcasts, alternative magazines and newspapers, etc.

It’s no wonder we forget stuff. And with elections approaching, this epidemic of forgetting is reaching a peak.

Yes, I know – you, personally, don’t forget things. You can probably even tell me when the Giants last won the Super Bowl. But how much of the following really important stuff do you remember?

Do you remember the war on drugs? And the previous war on drugs...and the previous war on drugs? How did it all turn out?

Do you remember that a top government priority, back in 2001, was to track down the terrorists who launched the anthrax attacks? Did they ever find them? (Yes, I know, the government recently released a report which said that the anthrax was not, as they first thought, military grade, but a different kind that more ordinary people could obtain. The fact that it took 5 years to figure this out is mind-boggling.)

Do you remember the “big tent” idea? It was President Bush’s promise to gather everybody in America “Under One Big Tent” where we would argue, compromise (which is what politics has always been about) and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, once Mr. Bush moved into the big tent, he stopped listening to views he didn’t want to hear. And the tent was quietly folded.

Do you remember the name of the California Congressman who was just sent to prison for bribery and fraud? Or the Texas Congressman recently indicted on criminal charges by a grand jury? Or the Representative from Louisiana who is being investigated for wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe foreign officials?

Do you remember how delighted we all were with the budget surplus in the year 2000? And how the budget is doing today? *

And, needless to say, our politicians keep forgetting things, too. They make wonderful campaign promises. We elect them. They forget about their promises. We forget about their promises. Then they make new promises. And we elect them again.

Please, somebody convince me we’re not truly losing our minds and all we need is a memory upgrade from CompUSA.

With elections around the corner, we need all the memory we can get.

P.S. In case you didn’t remember, the Giants last won the Super Bowl in 1991, beating Buffalo 20-19.

* This is one thing you really ought to remember, for your grandchildren’s sake, for your retirement plans, etc.: In 2000, the USA had a budget surplus of $236 billion. Last year, we had a deficit of approximately $425 billion.

©2006 Peter Tannen