Who's asking: Bill Walsh, Washington, DC
"Or is it just me?" he asks.
It's not just you, Bill, but I do think it's something that gets harder when you're traveling a lot. I have friends who spend three months or more on the road every year, and not all of them are as good about remembering hotel room numbers as they'd like to be.
That said, it is easy for most people to remember the number of their hotel room, because it's a convergence of a few key memory-enhancing elements.
First off, the hotel room is your temporary shelter, which puts it right near the base of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Shelter's a physiological need, but the hotel room is a security need as well -- we always feel a little uncertain when we're traveling, and the hotel room represents a place of safety.
Second, a three- or four-digit hotel room number is the ideal size for the memory storage process called "chunking." Psychologists have established that the human brain stores information most efficiently by breaking it down into small, manageable pieces (chunks). We remember phone numbers not as seven digits (or ten digits), but as three digits plus four digits. Poetry is easier to memorize than prose because we remember it one phrase or line at a time, not in complete sentences.
Finally, think about the way you remember your hotel room number. Do you just remember the digits, or do you visualize the number on the door itself? If you visualize the number on the door itself, this is imaging, another aid to memory. Most people remember images and other direct sensory input better than they remember words or numbers. People with exceptionally good memories for words and numbers usually say they "see" the words and numbers in their minds (which is why we call that a photographic memory).
Yesterday's drive back from Montreal was a little harrowing. The weather was fine when I left the island, but turned ugly by the time I got to southern Quebec, and the drive through Dixville Notch was something I'd really not rather do again. It's spring, dammit! Why is it still snowing?
My latest Mystery Bookstore podcast interview, with Robert Crais, is now online. You can subscribe by clicking any of the four buttons in the upper right-hand corner of The Mystery Bookstore's website.