It’s interesting to find old favourite things that you’d completely forgotten about. For one reason or another I looked on my old last.fm the other day and found that one of the most listened to albums there was something that I haven’t listened to for over a year, This Binary Universe by BT.
Why did I forget about this album, which was (and once again is) one of my favourites? For this specific one, I deleted a lot of pirated music from my library and couldn’t find an affordable second-hand copy. More generally, why do people need constant reminders even for media they enjoy?
A couple of Google searches led me to this 1974 paper titled Cue-Dependent Forgetting. The author Endel Tulving argues that when we forget, we are not necessarily losing the information, but simply the keys for the information that we have forgotten.
This is an interesting idea, and as far as I can tell a now well-established one. Indeed, much of the memorizing and studying advice found in the SRS literature recommends studying in multiple places to reduce the knowledge becoming connected to the context of the environment, rather than the intended cues.
Now the cause for my forgetting about that album become clear. At about the same time as I deleted all that music, I moved house. The context that I was listening to music in changed, so I lost the cues I had that might remind me of that particular album, and I lost the album itself. The concurrence of these events meant that even though it’s still one of my favourite albums, I never thought to listen to it since then.