You win some, lose some with a digital brain

“(My paper system) causes me to stay in the moment and plan my days with intent. I feel satisfaction when I physically check an item off my list.” ~ Anjali Khosla, editor of Fast Company Digital

When my youngest was in elementary school, I forgot to pick her up after some kind of practice or event (I don’t remember exactly, which is ironic considering the point I’m going to make), so she walked home with her little legs and big backpack. In the dark. It may or may not have been cold, but I’m guessing she’d say it was.

I forget things, you see, and I don’t discriminate. It might be an appointment, it might be a kid. You never know. I realize I’m not alone and we all do these things, but I’m afraid that since that time, I have become both better and worse at remembering.

Like the rest of the free world, I use the calendar on my phone. It’s my alarm clock, my snooze button, my reminder alert and my appointment organizer. All of the entries have one alert, most have two.

This tool is why I’m better at logging and remembering my stuff. Because of the consistent whistles, dings and bells snapping me to attention—not unlike Pavlov’s dogs without the drool, now that I think about it—at regular intervals.

I’m convinced this is also why I’m so much worse at remembering things on my own.

Awhile back my mom was visiting for a few days. She was baking something in the oven and commented it would be ready in around 20 minutes. I told her there was a timer on the oven. Or the microwave. I also have one on my phone or there’s an egg timer on the cabinet.

She told me she’d remember.

My mom is in her 80s, has been cooking forever and is as sharp as a tack. I shouldn’t be surprised by the concept of remembering something 20 minutes later, but I was. The thought of not setting a ticking bomb of time made me anxious.

I’m all about pen and paper. I have told my kids they must take handwritten notes to stand a chance of remembering whatever they’re studying. I can’t read books on any type of device because my mind wanders and it’s impossible to flip back a page on a screen. How can someone who appreciates paper in every way become so reliant on robotic noises and ringtones?

An agenda planner was on my kiddo’s back to school shopping list and I took great pleasure in watching her pick one out. It was too cute and too spirally to ignore my growing jealousy.

So I got myself one and am in the process of retraining my brain to be aware of my day and my eyes to regularly look up at the clock. I’m adding no-bleed color pens and prettying up this experiment. If my plan works, I won’t always need two dings and a reset to remember to run home and let a dog pee.

After recently having a couple of conversations about a reliance on audible reminders, I’ve had a nagging feeling that I’m making things worse for myself. I don’t like how it feels to not remember something as basic as returning a library book, buying toilet paper, or I don’t know, picking up a beloved human being from somewhere and returning them home.

I read somewhere that keeping track of activities on paper allows a person to retain a bit of “old-fashioned control, on their terms.” I buy into that idea. I know I won’t let every reminder alarm go silent, but the tactile action of writing out and glancing at my days does gives me a sense of control that I’d like to have back.

I’m afraid of what I’m going to forget but that will have to be. I’ll find out if my brain can be retrained to pay attention through this detox and hopefully will come out less digitally-reliant on the other side.

And if I do forget something, odds are my phone is four to six inches away from me anyway. Someone (a child I left behind perhaps?) is bound to call and remind me.