Total [Non–] Recall


Photo of our RAINBOW (yes, rainbow!) gelati

I had quite the disconcerting experience this afternoon. Walking with Clara to grab some coffee, I made a quick stop at an ATM to withdraw the required funds that would allow us to sit at a café. A café of choice.

I put the card in as per normal, but then stared at the keypad blankly for a few moments. Despite years of entering it, for some reason at that specific moment I had no idea what my PIN was. I entered what vaguely seemed familiar, and the ATM allowed me to proceed.

Having selected my required amount and account, I eagerly awaited the slivers of thin plastic our society has deemed to be worth exchanging for goods and services. In our case, gelati and coffee. And no autocorrect, I did not mean gelatin!

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that Ruben”, said the ATM in a decidedly HAL–like tone of voice (footnote #1). As I feared, I’d entered an incorrect PIN.

I tried it again, and still couldn't remember. Again, the ATM reported an incorrect PIN. Rather than risk it eating my card, I cancelled the transaction.

An hour or so later, Clara and I were enjoying our coffee and gelati, procured with our pooled shrapnel reserves. As I was otherwise occupied playing cards, the PIN appeared in my mind, as if it were a fluorescent neon tube glowing so bright its light burned into my eyes.

The number seemed so obvious. You've been typing it for years Ruben, of course you'd remember it!

Yet… why couldn't I remember it before? What was it about my circumstance that was different from all the other times I've approached an ATM armed with the correct numeric sequence to unlock thin sheets of plastic? Had I done psychology at university instead, perhaps I'd know the answer.

Footnote #1: My legal department has requested I refer to this ATM as “machine with malicious intent”, rather than the trademarked HAL. Legal department B proceeded to remind me I’m a valuable customer for whom the bank would harbour no malicious intent. Finally, my third legal department demands I stop pretending I have legal departments, thereby denying its own existance.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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