What it's really like to have a photographic memory

There's an exceedingly rare superpower that some human's possess called Hsam (highly superior autobiographical memory). The University of California, Irvine's Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory is the only place that verifies Hsam. According to the Center, Hsam is the "superior ability to recall specific details of autobiographical events" and those who have it "tend to spend a large amount of time thinking about their past and have a detailed understanding of the calendar and its patterns." The researchers have only counted fewer than 100 cases of Hsam. Of course, there are some people who just haven't been tested at the University but exhibit Hsam powers—for example, Krystyna Glowacki who told The Guardian about the pluses and minuses of remembering everything.

"Some events I've seen or heard I'd just like to forget, but I can't," she says. "When bad things happen to me, when I had arguments that escalated or when I misbehaved."

From The Guardian:

Glowacki, from the New South Wales central coast, can name the hottest and coldest temperature recorded in every country in the world, along with the location and date that record was set. She can also name the longitude and latitude of every major city in the world. Despite lockdown, she transports me across oceans, accurately naming coordinates from San Francisco to Berlin in quickfire responses.

"I just have the ability to retain information. It's just there," Glowacki saysShe only needs to scan the internet once or twice to take and keep anything in.

Glowacki is on the autism spectrum and has superlative memory and calendar recall skills[…]

For those born without the natural gift of phenomenal recall, there are tricks and techniques that train the brain into a better memory muscle.

According to Gail Robinson, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the Queensland Brain Institute, "the magic ingredient is paying attention".

"In neuropsychology, if someone has a patchy memory, we look at how good their attention is; what else are they thinking about," she says.

"Paying attention is a different skill from memory. And it's absolutely a skill you can develop. That part is nurture. It requires focus, being selective on the information you retain, and encoding that. Deep focus is key – and social media feeds are killing that skill."

image: Rickyukon (CC BY-SA 4.0)