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The smell of yesterday

I grew up across the street from a bowling alley. It was rough around the edges but I had a lot of fun there. It also had a very distinct smell, which I cannot describe or identify. Probably some combination of the oil they used on the lanes, floor polish, and various fried foods. I have never smelled anything like it since.

Until…I was speaking to someone a couple of weeks ago who was wearing a perfume that was close enough to that scent that it took me right back to being 12 years old. I asked my wife later, “WTF was she wearing? She smells like a bowling alley.”  Probably not the aura she intended to convey.

OZ's Randy Adis has shared an article that discusses a recent study that explains the science of episodic odor memory. There is a region of the brain that forms neural pathways with the hippocampus and those pathways cement these memories. Indeed, a loss of smell-based memory is an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, so this phenomenon is real.

The first half of the article gets pretty heavily into the science of the paper. The second half talks a bit about marketing and societal implications. As we go to more of a one-click economy and spend more time behind our screens than hanging out in public places, what does this mean for our olfactory memories and, in turn, what does this mean for how we experience life?