It is a scene for which the word "fuggedaboutit" was first created. A woman is crossing the room in my direction and I am entering a state of social panic.
A mere half-hour ago we had an engaging, friendly and lengthy conversation. Now here comes the pop quiz. I have to introduce her to my husband. By name.
My mind scans the alphabet madly. A, her name is Alice? No, Allison? B, her name is Betsy? How about Cathy?
I am having what we usually call _ with a touch of insouciance _ "a senior moment." Only of course, it isn't a moment. Somewhere between bifocals and Medicare, the moments have linked together into minutes. The short-term memory has deteriorated into a mass of fuggedaboutits. D, her name is Debra?
But now a reassuring _ I think _ theory suggests I am not suffering from Rotting Brain Syndrome or Mid-Life Losing It Disease. I have merely run out of storage space.
This theory comes from H. Lee Swanson of the University of California Riverside. Swanson studied working memory in 778 people from 6 to 76 years old, testing their ability to remember _ with cues, cues and more cues _ such things as the name and number of the supermarket at "8651 Elm St."
It isn't "cognitive skills" that present a problem for the over-45 crowd, he suggests in the journal Developmental Psychology. It's the "capacity limitations." In short, it isn't that my brainpower is weak but that my mailbox is full. It's not a lack of grey matter, but of RAM.
Alas, I cannot yet buy more brain RAM. So the good news is tempered by the problem at hand: G, her name is Grace?
But these computer-brain analogies have encouraged me to design entirely new software for the memory problem. May I introduce Brain Housekeeping 99?
What the aging baby boom generation needs is a way to clean out the mental storage shelves and thus make room for new inventory. This is a program to empty the mental hard-drive of everything that is defunct, useless, self-destructive, irrelevant or just plain annoying.
Feature One: With this new software, you can download everything you are no longer using _ I mean, "utilizing" _ to a disk.
Consider my own brain, for example, currently cluttered with camp songs, circa 1958, leaving no room for string theory or Alan Greenspan's reasoning. Using BH 99, I can transfer Camp Woodlands' green team songs onto a disk in the rare event that I ever need them again for a camp reunion.
Feature Two: This software also offers a recycle bin for the brain's desktop. What better place for the child-raising theories that litter my front lobe long after the infant has graduated college? Permissiveness, potty training and phonics _ get thee to a bin!
Feature Three: Let's not underestimate the most popular function of BH 99: the delete button. Haven't we all wished to permanently wipe something out of the memory bank? Seventh grade, for example. And how about the first six months after a divorce? Trust me, you won't miss them.
Feature Four: For an additional price, this software also allows the user the option of permanently expunging those images that clog up the memory bank against our will: sitcoms, Budweiser ads, George Stephanopoulos, etc. It can not only delete all memory of the Monica Lewinsky scandal _ which has used up all the megabytes reserved for understanding Social Security reform _ but includes an anti-virus program that blocks the entrance of any new gossip. T, her name is Tina Brown?
With BH 99 you too can remove Latin to make room for Spanish. You can delete the 1963 map of Africa _ Tanganyika! Rhodesia! _ to make way for Tanzania! Zimbabwe! You can even delete the name of the 16-year-old who done you wrong in return for remembering: Z, her name is Zelda?
Brain Housekeeping 99 will no doubt be ripped off by some poorly dressed, sleep-deprived, IPO-fantasizing Gen-Xer in Silicon Valley. But you read it here first. Remember that. If you can.
+ Ellen Goodman is a Boston Globe columnist. +
Boston Globe Newspaper Co.