Destination memory

Destination memory

There’s no getting around it:

If a friend is someone who laughs at our stories, then a good friend is one who enjoys them even the second time around. But anyone who gasps with delight on hearing a story for the third time is faking it.

Psychologists have long paid attention to varieties of memory: short-term, long-term, explicit (like for faces and vocabulary), implicit (like for driving skills), autobiographical memory, false memory, and source memory (ability to recall where a fact was learned).

But “destination memory?”

[T]hey have paid little, if any, attention to … destination memory: about whose ears information has landed on. While the source of remembered information can be crucially important (Did I read that in The Onion or the daily newspaper?), so is its destination. Our stories, our jokes, our gossip form an important part of our social identity, psychologists say. Repeating oneself is not only embarrassing; it can be damaging, for diplomats, liars or anyone else trying to guard secrets, personal or professional.

I immediately wondered how physical engagement might change the study. Would eye contact, facial expression, or physical contact affect destination memory? Would Erving Goffman’s face engagement, as defined back in the ‘60s, bring focus to the memory?

When two persons are mutually present and hence engaged together in some degree of unfocused interaction, the mutual proffering of civil inattention — a significant form of unfocused interaction — is not the only way they can relate to one another. They can proceed from there to engage one another in focused interaction, the unit of which I shall refer to as a face engagement or an encounter.

Emily Post, of course, had her own opinion on the dangers of repeating oneself, in Chapter VII of Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, 1922:

Try not to repeat yourself; either by telling the same story again and again or by going back over details of your narrative that seemed especially to interest or amuse your hearer. Many things are of interest when briefly told and for the first time; nothing interests when too long dwelt upon; little interests that is told a second time.

Not quite steeped in scientific research. But then, she somewhat surprisingly, continues later with something quite profound:

Above all, stop and think what you are saying! This is really the first, last and only rule. If you “stop” you can’t chatter or expound or flounder ceaselessly, and if you think, you will find a topic and a manner of presenting your topic so that your neighbor will be interested rather than long-suffering.

Almost 90 years later, sound advice on remembering the destination.