If you’ve been the least valuable player on every trivia team you’ve ever been on, or if you can’t recall much of anything you learned in school, even in the classes you really liked, don’t fret: There may be a purpose to being forgetful. After analyzing data on memory, forgetfulness, and brain activity in both humans and animals, researchers from the University of Toronto concluded in a new study that brains may be designed to forget old memories in order to make space for new ones — sort of like you used to do with VHS tapes, if you can remember what those were. This function is advantageous because it allows us to get rid of outdated, incorrect, or conflicting information when we’re presented with new information that contradicts it, thus streamlining our decision-making process. Generalizations may not always be a good thing, but they are often useful to us in the evolutionary sense, especially when we’re pressed for time.
And while those of us who remember (however faintly) a time when it was necessary to memorize smaller pieces of everyday information (like phone numbers, or bank PINs), there’s no need to feel bad you don’t know these things offhand any longer. Just because you can memorize a phone number doesn’t mean it’s useful to you to do so, especially when that information is easily stored on your phone. Being able to rattle off every state capital might be cool (in certain crowds, anyway), but it’s not going to come in handy very often. With all that phone-bank/useless-trivia space freed up, perhaps your brain can better hold onto memories and information that are far more relevant and important to your present-day life.