"When my memory gets too bad, just promise you'll shoot me." I've heard some version of that refrain from most of the older people in my life. Unable to recall, say, the name of a former neighbor's long-dead cocker spaniel, they're convinced they're experiencing early signs of dementia.
I have many close friends and family members older than 60, and all of them are certain they are losing their marbles. I attempt logic, pointing out that they are whipping up their grandmother's brisket without consulting the recipe, while recounting their favorite scenes of Bates and Anna from last season's "Downton Abbey." The fact that they're momentarily unable to name the architect of the new downtown art museum doesn't mean it's time to put the hospice on speed dial.
Besides, I can state with authority that people of my generation, with our supposedly more supple brains, have memory lapses too. How many times have I, at 27, been discussing a film and been completely unable to remember the name of the third lead even though he was in that great thing and also had a recurring role on that comedic crime procedural on USA? How often has a contemporary asked me to remind them what corner that artisanal cheese shop is on or who won "So You Think You Can Dance," Season 6?
Of course, we have so much to remember. Take for example that girl I met last weekend. I not only have to recall her actual name, but also her Twitter and Instagram handles. I think at least one of them was "IncapaciKatie." Or something….
Our young brains contain impressive amounts of information, but thanks to Wikipedia we don't have the solid framework to hang our knowledge on that you elders take for granted. You have a breadth of experience that my generation can only hope to have when our AARP cards begin arriving and our by-then nonexistent Social Security kicks in. You can recall many of your friends' birthdays without Facebook, for God's sake, a skill that seems tantamount to witchcraft to anyone younger than 30.
You have memorized the lyrics to hundreds of songs that were released back when music had actual social relevance. You have an accumulation of advanced degrees and tens of thousands of hours of work experience built up over decades. In comparison, my generation, with our supposedly stellar memories, can tell you Justin Timberlake's latest tour dates, and we can even remember the multiple passwords to our HBO Go, Hulu, iTunes and Spotify accounts. But we don't know how to actually do anything.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Why in the name of all that is holy are you so worried because you once needed to check your contacts for your sister's home phone number? When's the last time you had to dial it from memory anyway?
Because we young folks don't have old age to blame for our failings, we pass off our gaping holes in memory by saying that we were sleepy or undercaffeinated or under-Adderall-ed, and we move on. Perhaps as we age, we too will begin to see these lapses as cataclysmic, believing as you do that there can be no explanation other than the looming total loss of all we hold dear. My hope is that we'll then be armed with the knowledge that these issues are constant and ancient and delightfully human.
There's no way to avoid the deluge of information that inundates our lives and imperils our memories. Aside, perhaps, from living in a cave, but honestly, the Wi-Fi reception in there is so atrocious, that won't happen. So here's a suggestion. Instead of fighting the inevitable and trying to hold onto every bit of knowledge that rolls by, my revered seniors, why not just go with the flow?
The fact that you can't retrieve the name of that Indian restaurant where you ate last week, the loud one with the gluten-free naan, doesn't mean that Alzheimer's is imminent. Relax, breathe, maybe read one of those old-fashioned bound books you are so fond of touting. Forget about what you're trying to recall, and it will come to you.
Or you could just Google it on your iPhone. That always works too.
Max Perry is a writer and yoga teacher living in Los Angeles.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times