I’ve just seen a face

I pretty much never forget a face (or names for that matter, although matching the right name to the face can be a problem). You might think this is a great skill to have, but it is both a blessing and a curse. Here’s why:

1. I waste a lot of time trying to figure out why the person who just walked by me on the sidewalk looks familiar. It could be someone I have only seen a few times or someone I see every day in a different context. For example, if you ride public transit you know that we are all creatures of habit. We arrive at the subway platform at about the same time each morning and stand at the same location on the platform. There are people I don’t know who I have seen at least 100 times in a year whose faces are etched in non-erase pen on some cerebral white board inside my head. That’s a lot of real estate that could be better deployed for other purposes, like remembering where I left my glasses.

2. It sometimes creates awkward situations, like when I ended up on an elevator with a guy I dated a few decades ago. I’d like to think I look pretty much the same as I always did, but he did not seem to find me remotely familiar even after I told him my name. Okay, maybe it was a different guy, but I maintain it sure looked like him.

3. On the other hand, when I go to a restaurant with some consistency of staffing, I recognize the person who served me last time and already know whether or not to avoid being seated in her section. Even better, if the server has relocated to another restaurant I happen to visit, I will still know whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. To the waiter who told me my dinner was not too salty: you can run but you can’t hide.

4. Facebook is of course the ultimate repository of quasi-familiar faces. However, you may not know that it is the electronic incarnation of a physical collection of photos and names to help colleagues recognize one another at twenty paces. A smarter person than me would have automated that function long before it occurred to Zuckerberg, but I digress. At a consulting firm where I worked many years ago, we had a bulletin board in the lunch room with everyone’s photo and name. This came in very handy because most of us were never in the office and it was generally not a good thing if you didn’t recognize your colleagues when working at the same client site. From time to time, people would leave the firm voluntarily or involuntarily. Whenever this happened, the photo-board would get re-jigged almost immediately to disguise the absence of one or more photos. However, with my super powers, I was able to easily identify who had ‘fallen off the board’ and became the go-to source for staffing intelligence. Lest you question the value of this, remember that information is the currency of power.