135. The Amnesia Pandemic

FAR MORE SERIOUS THAN the suicide epidemic of the late teens - which thankfully was nipped in the bud through timely, and carefully coordinated, interventions across several jurisdictions - was the amnesia pandemic of the following decade. Although anecdotal reports of mass amnesia began as much as a decade earlier, neurologists began noticing indicators of widespread memory loss in the early twenties. The term memory loss syndrome, or MLS, was coined in 2022 by Nobel laureate Professor Vivek Vivekananda, a leading neurologist at London's Francis Crick Institute. It was rapidly adopted into common usage as symptoms of widespread memory loss began to be reported across the world, no less frequently in developing countries as in developed countries. As MLS tends to afflict older people, it was at first hypothesised that it was related to Alzheimer's disease. Subsequent studies discredited this initial theory, leaving researchers with no satisfactory alternate explanation until rumours began to circulate of a highly contentious study, censored in part by the European Union, suggesting the cause of MLS was prolonged exposure to a variety of plastics widely used in the food industry. Another controversial theory, first forwarded in Taiwan by the high-profile whistleblower Audrey Lee before she died in mysterious circumstances, pinned the blame on rare earth minerals used in the manufacture of telecommunications equipment. While the international policy formulation and implementation response was impressive, for a whole lost generation of people across the world it was simply too little, too late: just as they reached the time of their life when long term memory was, at least historically, expected to be most active, the great bulk of their long term memories was effectively, and irretrievably, erased. Thankfully, as this is the same generation that first grew up with the mass digitisation of memory, including digital imaging and social media, traces of their past lives on, and an entire industry has been spawned on the premise that a person's memories can be sold back to them - although at considerable cost. Many of these memory retrieval products are bedeviled with problems. Consumers, who typically hand over between four and seven thousand dollars to companies who then scour the digital universe for records of their past, report high levels of dissatisfaction with what have come to be known as 'prosthetic memories'. While cases of fraud and misattribution are not uncommon, the most commonly reported problem is that there is a lack of what researchers call 'affective association' with the memories. Customers often complain that, even when the digital memories retrieved are authentic, MLS prevents them from recognising the memories as their own on an emotional level: the data thus retrieved, at considerable expense, is often described as like looking at a stranger's Facebook page. Nevertheless, psychotherapists who specialise in helping amnesiacs learn to live with memory loss recommend making use of these products, as over time new emotional ties to those memories have been known to develop, and some memory is, no matter how artificially grafted, considered a healthier alternative than none at all.