It has been suggested that everything we have ever seen or heard is stored in our memory, that there are large parts of our brains, that are seemingly not utilised, which in fact contain all those things we can no longer recall. The challenge is not one of memory, but one of retrieval. The brain is like a computer disk with data fragmented into scattered sectors and there being no means of defragmenting the drive.
My colleague Steve played a song from the spring of 1970, when he would have been six years old and I would have been nine. The music seemed very familiar, but difficult to place. The song Vehicle was the only hit for the American band Ides of March. It didn’t make the Top 30 in the British charts, which generally determined what was played on BBC Radio 1, not that I can remember listening to Radio 1 very much when I was nine.
A Google search brought a possible answer to how the music had become familiar: it was used in Schweppes television advertisements in the 1980s. It seemed a much more likely explanation than remembering it from primary school days.
Perhaps the date 1970 triggered something in the subconscious, or perhaps the music brought some associations that could not be identified, but words from another song surfaced. The words were no more than two small fragments of a lyric: “waiting for the break of day” and “twenty-five.” Silently repeating the words brought no ideas as to what the song might be.
Google straightaway identified the source: the song was 25 or 6 to 4 from Chicago. Even knowing the song title would not have helped me identify the band, 25 or 6 to 4 seems a world apart from Chicago’s 1976 chart-topper If you leave me now.
Watching a recording of Chicago from 21st July 1970 posted on YouTube, there was a moment to ponder on how the world worked before Google. Did mysteries remain unresolved? Were people more resourceful at finding answers to questions? Were there people at school or at work who would have had encyclopaedic knowledge of music or sport or whatever subject posed an unanswered question? I remember there were magazines of pop song lyrics, did people keep a collection of them?
Presumably, the advances in neuroscience and technology will bring an integration of the brain and electronic data and all the things at the back of the mind will be able to be recovered without the need for online searches. It will mean the loss of lots of conversations.