I was scrolling languidly through my beloved twitter-feed late one night when I saw a little tweet that caught my eye. I opened the link and to my horror found a post that I had written. There was no mention of my name. Whatsoever. Someone else had taken full credit for my idea. OMG!
I read it again. The flow of ideas was the same. The conclusion was the same. Keywords were identical. It wouldn’t be the first time that more than one person had written an article on the same topic with the same thought processes and conclusions. In fact there are millions of examples online and in the print media. And there were enough differences in wording between the two articles to escape a bamboo beating from the Google Panda, but still…
I knew the other blogger. She knew me. And I knew she had read the post in question (a guest post published on another website, not my own). Why would she do this? I knew from reading her blog that she had a lot going on in her personal life. Maybe she was taking short cuts because she was so overwhelmed by what was happening in her real life … so she borrowed from my blog? Maybe she didn’t even realize what she had done? I decided to let it go. She was a blogger I respected highly and I figured she had sound reasons to do what she did. And I was just about to flick back to my twitter-feed and forget all about it when I saw it… the date of her post. She had published it before I had even written mine. She wasn’t the copycat. I was.
To say I felt mortified is a complete understatement. Throw in confused and rattled and you might get a little closer. How was this possible? I had always taken deep pride in the fact that all of my work was completely original. It may be rubbish, but at least I owned it!
Can you be an accidental copycat? Oh yes. Yes you can. Just ask Dr Google. And it’s called Cryptomnesia.
According to Wikipedia, “Cryptomnesia occurs when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognised as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a song, or a joke, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration.”
In other words, it is possible to read an article or hear a story, then wake up several days later and recall it without remembering who had said it or in fact recognizing that it was generated by someone else in the first place.
Think it won’t happen to you? Think again. According to the first empirical study  of cryptomnesia, people inadvertently copied the work of another about 3–9% of the time. They did this by not realizing that the idea they recalled was originally presented to them as someone else’s. Instead, they falsely recall the thought as something original… their own. And so they too become an accidental copycat.
So now my respect for “the other blogger” is even higher than it was before. Because she no doubt read my blog and thought “what a cheek!!” … but she didn’t challenge me privately or publicly berate me. If you are reading this “mystery blogger” – thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so humbled by your actions. You gave me the benefit of the doubt and quietly moved on. Very gracious indeed.
But more than anything, this little blip in my blogging career has made me realize how profoundly we are influenced by the people around us, either consciously or unconsciously.
Maybe what you write, say and do is influencing people more than you… or they… even realize.
Today I’m linking up Jess from Diary of a SAHM, who’s about to enter a whole new decade!
Read my weekly intro over at Love New Blogs. This week I’m talking about being decisive about indecision.
 ^ Brown, A. S., & Murphy, D. R. (1989). Cryptomnesia: Delineating inadvertent plagiarism. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 15, 432–442.