The pandemic has ruined my memory. Can my search history help?

Our memories are shot: I know this, having read, and instantly forgotten, the science. It is the combination of isolation, anxiety and nothing happening, I think, undermining our episodic memory. Repeating myself, forgetting shopping and rereading a simple recipe 10 times, I fear my brain has been smoothed to idiocy by days that pass without contours or relief.

What do I remember from last year? A final trip to disaster-movie-eerie London, during which I was so freaked out that I left my handbag (remember those?) on a bench. A Mother’s Day painting that made me cry. The unlikely delight of playing the piano with my son, but we have forgotten the easy piece we fumbled through in April.

It is tempting fate, but I wonder what will remain in five or 10 years. I can’t rely on the tired grey sponge in my head, so the surviving record may be only digital: texts from DPD about when Mariusz is coming (constantly – sorry, Mariusz); blurry pigeon photos and 800 phone reminders that say “Sainsbury’s” or “Buy deodorant”.

One digital record I would cherish is my phone search history. Not all of it (“Cure sleep drooling”, “Philip Mould”) but a specific subset: the searches we do in front of the telly at night. Because that is how almost all the past 365 nights have passed: with one eye on the big screen, the other on the small, not so much talking as shoving phones at each other. One night it is “Tapir penis”, “Eruv” and “Belize”; the next “Are advert meerkats a couple” and “Gazza roast chicken killer”. Some is TV-related (most testifying to how little I understood the impenetrable German time-travel drama Dark), but more is not: half-forgotten history, memes or obscure facts to prove a point.

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I want a word cloud of our searches, because, of all this rotten past year, I have most cherished the aimless, companionable evenings with my cooped-up sons. It is stolen time – they should have been out doing more exciting things – but, guiltily, I have loved every minute.


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