Several times this evening I thought I saw people I knew. As I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing this there’s a woman on the other side of the room that my keeps getting drawn towards, and not for the usual reason of her being attractive. She is but she also reminds me just enough of somebody else I know that every time I look up I keep thinking, for a brief instant, that it’s her. Yet I know it’s not. It’s just that level of familiarity spurs a knee-jerk reaction in me. In a table to my right there’s a couple having dinner. I keep thinking I know the guy from being a regular at the convenience store I used to work at. But I know it’s not the same guy. I’m having the same reactions to him. Earlier I was at a sandwich shop getting dinner. I didn’t quite have the same reaction with the girl who made my sandwich but I kept thinking that she could have been related to somebody I worked with. I knew if I asked it would just be an awkward conversation no matter what the answer was.
Yet I’m constantly in the situation when I run into somebody that I do know but I don’t recognize them at first, or at all unless they remind me. When I worked at that convenience store this young woman would come in from time to time to buy something that I needed to card her for. I don’t remember what. But I carded her every time. As soon as I saw her name on her I.D. I would remember who she was and apologize. It probably didn’t help that she’s on my friends list on Facebook. In my defence, however, we dont’ really communicate at all online and she only came to the store very occasionally.
But it still happens from time to time, even with people whom I know better. Could I have some sort of psychological issue? I don’t think it’s very severe if I did. I do recognize people even if it takes a few moments. I think it might have something more to do with not feeling comfortable with social interaction. I get nervous at having to talk to somebody that my brain shuts down any sense of recognition. This might be an extreme view but it’s worth thinking about. I never am totally comfortable when talking to others in person. That’s one reason that I like the Internet, as it allows me to interact with others as a writer.
On the other hand, it could be that because I got so comfortable with online communication that I’ve blocked myself from developing social skills. My first response to that idea is that it’s something bad that I should work on fixing. Then again, should I? Is it really a problem? Even if it isn’t the case that the Internet is allowing an otherwise socially awkward person to communicate, it’s still allowing me to communicate. Let’s put aside any benefits to communicate with others. If we are to assume that it’s a good skill to have, I see no reason to nitpick with how we develop that skill.
To get back to the facial recognition thing, I should say that if somebody has a feature about them that’s unique then I get it pretty quickly. I have a friend who has some distinct facial features (one of these days I should ask her what her background is) but aside from that she has some really big dreadlocks. I occasionally see other women with similar hair around here but I soon realize it’s not her. But I do have that same reaction of “Is that…? No.” Maybe I’ve reached the point in my life that I’ve seen so many different combinations of faces that they’re starting to overlap in my brain. I haven’t gotten as far as forgetting people completely. Could there be some merit, however, to the idea that we gather so much information in our lives that we start to have memory problems? Could the fact that I don’t know a lot of people be a good thing, then, in that it allows me to keep my memory a bit longer?
I’m getting into the realm of psychology that I shouldn’t theorize on. I’m sure there are people out there that can provide me with a lot more research and academic thought on this topic. I’m not interested enough to bother with the research myself. But it is something that I’d like to know about. It is my psyche, after all. I’m not sure if I want to know everything about it (usually when I ask such questions, people run away from me). Something like this, however, that I may be able to improve—if it really is a problem at all—would be worth looking into.