Improving Interactions with Memories

Personal illustration ©Amogh Gharpure

This piece is my reflection on the part presented by Mark Zeh in the ‘Embrace, Adapt, and Decide’ lecture series at the IxDA Conference 2023 in Zurich, Switzerland.

I was fortunate to attend the 3-day IxDA annual conference this year held in Zurich, Switzerland from March 1st–3rd, supported by my grad college — The School of Visual Arts (SVA) and it was an eye-opener for me being the first time to be in a room with distinguished designers and researchers from all over the world.

The following article about ‘Improving Interactions with Memories’ is focused on one-of-many lectures that interested me the most and induced me to think from a new perspective as a fellow designer.

Mark Zeh is a multi-disciplinary designer based in Munich, Germany. He is the founder of Sonal Studios based in Germany. His contact information has been attached at the end.

How often does it happen that we need to recall the content of the information we heard/ read but find ourselves helpless to only remember where we last encountered the information? or something like we only recollect the information but not the source?

Housewife: “..Oh, I remember reading about it in Financial Times, or wait was it The Economist? or maybe it was in a post on Facebook?…”

Company Employer: “…his job title is something around IT or Data, need to check LinkedIn…”

Kid: “…A picture I saw about Disneyland was so good, I thought it was on my Instagram, maybe it’s in my search history on Google…”

We come across one remorseful post about a soldier on Twitter and the next moment it is swapped for an optimistic success story by an Apple employee on Linkedin, or replaced by redundant raccoon-eating information on TikTok, all in a mere 1 minute. The kinds of information our brain received in that 1 minute could have nothing in common and not on the same scale of emotion to stabilize. We like one piece, save it and move to the next one, simple enough to proceed ahead but not enough to retain anything. In the end, our brain gets confused about what was it supposed to even remember.

30% of Human conversations have a similar scenario of not knowing things personally as digital memory stores it for us.

What can we do to help people transform digital information into usable knowledge?

Mark touched on the basics of 3 types of memories that I scribbled down based on my understanding.

Apart from the 3 basics, Mark revealed a novel Transactive memory.

Transactive memory system:

“A transactive memory system is a set of individual memory systems, in combination with the communication that takes place between individuals” -words of Daniel Wegner, et al

Transactive memory is a function of groups that allows interdependent cognition.

Communication or conversation results in an integrated idea or concept generation that builds up value more than a lone skill. A transaction of skills that creates new kinds of knowledge, forming a story and an anchor for our brain to hold on to the information. When a group of individuals interacts or works together, then the storage of information gets divided according to the area of expertise of individuals, thus creating a memory system. Everyone is aware of where to seek the information and where to direct it, in contrast to a single person trying to handle everything.

Myths about Knowledge:

Knowledge is information that has been encoded into human memory so that it can be used in all human cognitive processes. ‘Googling’ is a buzzword that is potentially assumed as not just researching but something ‘Being known by the person’ in itself. A lot of modern-day engineers and designers rely on digitally stored information to build something than knowing it inherently. It creates just a piece of one-way delivery of information from the robot to the human, with no transaction.

Sensory and Motor homunculus sculptures at the Museum of Natural History, London

This is a very satirical representation of human evolution and the distribution of neural connections based on the technology used. Most cognition is happening only via our touch. Textures, tastes, and sizes of entities in our present relationship to digital information are vastly underused, reducing everything to just flat-screen touch. Information delivery medium is the first step to retaining memories.

Human memory is unlimited. But recalling ability and mechanisms that promote forgetting are limited. In real life, there are mechanisms that prevent us from recalling some details or events.

There are 3 properties of memory that affect the retrieval strength:

  1. Primacy: The very first time we do something or see something is the information that gets etched in our minds effortlessly and is the most powerful. ‘The first impression is the last impression’ is actually ‘The first impression is the lasting impression’.
  2. Recency: When we update something in our memory, recalling the new version is easier and most accessible.

Directed Forgetting:

When we learn something with the same retrieval cues, recalling the old information gets difficult or almost hampered. Today, smartphones have become almost the sole retrieval cue for every kind of information. We just stroke the black glass and stack the unending information in our brains without realizing there’s no retrieval path to access the information in times of need. This causes us to forget the old information and recall only the recently added upper stack.

With our current phones, we do not converse or communicate, just receive data. We do not build knowledge or grasp anything. If there is at least one more unique cue with the piece of information we accessed via our phones, then the recalling ability of that information gets precedence.

3. Duration: It is the time duration for which we can hold information without changing its form.

Metamemory is basically a sense of whether we know something or not.

In many cases, we overlook pieces of information that we find easily around, scan them and proceed, just like googling stuff.

Because we can Google the same information repeatedly and without any limitation, we tend to believe we know the information.

We believe it to be memorized but in fact, the only aspect we retain is having seen it somewhere. We just get the feeling of knowing it. Studying means encoding the information in our brains without the necessity of relying on a digital source.

Read the full article here

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