“The Man in the Mirror: Recency Versus Primacy,” Part II


It seemed so profound a week or so ago – my thoughts on recency.  Now that they’re not so recent, they don’t seem so profound. Hmmm…Is that the whole point? In a way it is the point, but not totally.

What Meaning Can We Attach to “Recency”? 

Let’s face it, finding meaning for our lives in daily occurrences is probably what we are yearning to do.  So when I first was introduced to this word, “recency”, it led me on a Google search for a definition.  It wasn’t easy considering that I had first thought the word I heard was “recentivity”. (Don’t try to search for that one.  Google can’t even find much on a word that is barely a real word.)

You’ll find that looking for the word “recency” will lead you to articles on brain functioning, specifically in regard to memory.  (See previous post for a fast paced informative video). It hit me that perhaps just being aware of how our minds function in this way can lead us to modify or adapt our behavior to be a bit more in control of parts of our lives. It’s like once you know how something works you can figure out solutions or at the very least, not feel stupid.  (When my husband finally explained to me that the reason my natural left-handed approach to using a corkscrew was awkward because you’re left-hand inhibits the proper use of torque on the operation, I felt less stupid and bought myself a left-handed corkscrew.). See how that works?

In a discussion of recency versus primacy you’ll find this definition: “The first item in a list is initially distinguished from previous activities as important (primacy effect) and may be transferred to long-term memory by the time of recall. Items at the end of the list are still in short-term memory (recency effect) at the time of recall.”

While apparently this word has application from everything from education, advertising, to the stock market, and beyond, being of a naturally selfish nature, I wanted to see how the word had meaning in my life. You can’t really search something like that out; serendipity has to make that happen. And, sure enough, a few days after hearing that new word, it did.

Recency In Everyday Life

It was a “Man in the Mirror” moment. I was standing there looking at my reflection first thing in the morning.  (I hate to inform those of you under 70, but one day you will look in the mirror and it can ruin your whole day, or at least the next half-hour.) So there I was, all of these depressing thoughts impinging on my brain – hair thinning, face crepe-y, fat cheeks. Damn. Of course all of us who make valiant attempts each day to stay on this side of the line of sanity, know how desperately we search for something, anything, that will pull us back from the abyss.  And I found it, right there in my newly discovered word. “recency”.

This is just a “today” thought, I thought.  What about that picture a month ago where I actually looked decent?  I couldn’t have changed that much in a month!  So I combed my thinning hair over the empty spots and went smilingly on with the day not wanting to latch on to a recent thought and put it in my mind to make it a primary thought.  Recency can only be powerful it seems to me if it thrown into our long term memory. .

In life, in marriage, in our careers, it might be a good idea to think about recency.  Is the last thought we had about any of these areas really the one we should cling too?  Unless it’s an elevating thought, a thought that makes enhances our life’s purpose, a thought that will make everything better, we need to re-think that very last thought and decide whether or not that is a reflection of the whole.  Is that argument you’ve had with your husband really the sum total of your relationship?  Is that negative thought you’ve had about you, the sum total of all the good you may have done in the world?  Understanding how our mind works in this way gives us power over our very own “hard wiring”, for as great as the wiring may be, the most elegant part of that design is the ability to change itself.

The Man in the Mirror: Recency Versus Primacy, Part 1

dollopSee? Now this is what happens when you join a group.  You learn different stuff than you would just sitting home alone, writing on your computer.  So last Thursday at the Orange County Lake Forest Round Table, author Howard Rogers was reading a chapter from a new book he’s working on in his Mordacai Glass Detective series. (His first book, “A Male Doberman Named Esther,” was published this summer and is a fun read!)  Since Howard’s main character in his new novel is a college professor in some fancy-dancy field of Psychology as Howard was in, and since Casey Dorman (newest novel “2020“) also spent years in the field of psychology, the conversation evolved to something “Skinnerian” (a term I vaguely understand) and took a leap somehow to the theory of “recency” (a term I was hearing for the first time). You’d think that a person like myself who actually has spent a considerable number of hours being counseled by psychologists would be afraid to be in a group such as this, the threat of being psychoanalyzed looming in the subconscious somewhere. But no, these writers are the least intimidating, most down to earth group of any people I know.

So, back to “recency”!  Last Thursday was the first time I ever heard the term.  I started this article writing paragraphs of information on the term itself and then leading into how I incorporated the concept as I looked in the mirror a few days after hearing it.  But THEN, I ran into this video about “Remembering and Forgetting” which is totally intriguing, fun, and contains a rapid explanation of “recency” somewhere in the middle. So I thought, “Why try to improve on perfection?” and decided to stop “talking” (a rare instance for those who know me) and let you enjoy this more inclusive video instead – just because it’s so much fun. The narrator, whose name, as best I can discern is Hank Green, talks like lightning, so be sure you don’t miss the “recency” part somewhere in the middle. Apparently this video is part of a crowd funding project, Crash Courses, which, after viewing the video, you might like to support.  So view the video and watch for my next blog (tomorrow or so) on how recency and I met in the mirror last week.

Where Were You When You Fell in Love – With GOOGLE?

dollopMost of us remember where we were on significant days of our lives or our nation’s life. I am sure you remember this event in your life as well, particularly if you’re over twenty-five. For me, it will always be remembered as the day I cheated on Jeeves. You might remember it differently.

It was the early 1990’s. And I remember the day well – every last detail. A.J. a college student who had signed up for weekly tutoring appointments for his English Composition class through our TRIO Student Support Services Program at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, MN, came into my office all excited. “Hey, I’ve gotta show you something, Billie. Our English instructor told us to use this to do our research for our next paper.”

“Well, A.J., remember I already told you about Jeeves“.  It never dawned on me that his professor could have told him about any thing other than Jeeves. I decided to indulge A.J. and let him bring up Jeeves himself on my computer screen.  Instead, he went to the browser window and typed in “g-o-o-g-l-e”.  What a ridiculous name, I thought. It reminded me of that stupid pre-World War II song my father would sing around the house, “Barney Google,” with his goo-goo-google-y eyes.

A.J. then went ahead and searched for something on this Google thing, but I still held fast to my love of Jeeves and showed him that Jeeves came up with almost the same information as this Google guy.  “Plus,” I added, “Jeeves has a lot more listings under ‘cached.'” And he did, actually.

Days passed, and I refused to be disloyal to Jeeves and the marvelous search engine he drove. I simply refused to have anything to do with Google.  And then came the day that Jeeves failed me. It wasn’t some enormous failure, just some little task that he couldn’t to fulfill. (I do admit  that there was some purely physical reason that bothered me about Jeeves as well.  That stuffy pinstriped suit that he wore everyday and his balding head just weren’t my style.  He looked 60, and I was only in my late 40s at the time.)  Yes, I’ll admit it, it was then and there that I threw myself into the arms of the Google and his unsurpassed algorithmic search engine. The die was cast; the course taken. It should be noted that Jeeves is the only man I’ve ever cheated on, but like some cold-hearted, ex-spouse, once I closed the door and walked out on Jeeves for my new love Google, I never looked back.

And that’s how it’s been.  Google and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary together soon, and I continue to grow more in love with Google very day.  I’ve been faithful to him all these years. Well, yes, there was that other guy, Bing, who tempted me but that was for about fifteen minutes one day, so surely it doesn’t count since I immediately went right back to Google and vowed to never stray again.

I’m sure you remember the day you first met Google as well.  I realize now that many people love Google – millions really, but that’s ok. I’ve come to accept that.  So don’t be afraid to tell me, in your comments below, how you first met Google . Google belongs to the world. That’s what makes it so valuable and what makes every person’s first encounter with the Google search engine a personal, yet collective memory that we all share.