I was in an office building one day recently when someone called my name. I had no idea who she was. We had worked at the same company, she told me, in the same division. Then, worse, she said she’d worked for me for a few weeks at the consulting firm I started!
This was all quite embarrassing, but I’m used to it by now. I pretend to recognize people, just in case. Like all the people I’ve interviewed for the column I used to write for my local newspaper – after spending an hour with them and taking their pictures, a week or a month or a year later I’d see them in town and have no idea who they were.
It’s called prosopagnosia, I finally learned from an article in Time magazine. Difficulty with face recognition. You can take a fun test here to see if you have it – fun, that is, if you don’t, but very difficult if you do.
When Harvard professor Ken Nakayama was studying prosopagnosiacs, he discovered their polar opposites: “super-recognizers” he calls them. These people can recognize celebrities from their childhood pictures, among many other talents.
So I told Chip about these astounding people – turns out he’s one of them. (But then he reads People magazine, so he has a slight advantage.) I knew I picked him for a reason.
But here’s the strange thing. The camp I went to as a teenager, where I later became a counselor, had a reunion recently. As a result, people have been emailing old camp pictures and current pictures of themselves, and I can recognize all of them: in the camp pictures, when they were younger than they were when I first met them; and as they are now, forty or even fifty years later.
They imprinted on me somehow, as have my family and friends, thank goodness. And I’m just as happy not cluttering up my brain with baby celebrities.