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Between memory and experience

April 19, 2010

Irene Guijt pointed me to this TED talk by Daniel Kahneman who has a substantial claim to be the inventor of behaviour economics. The point which really struck me was the disconnect between experience and memory and the low impact of time on our perception. Seeing the future as anticipated memories is an interesting side idea from the talk. Now there is nothing new here (although its well presented) but its an important reminder in relationship to issues of narrative research. A few specific points that occur to me (and these go beyond the TED talk).

  • It makes the danger of reliance on content for meaning clearer. Both semantic and expert approaches assume than meaning exists in captured content, and can be discovered or interpreted. The memory of the interpreter (experience for the expert and training data for semantics) creates a filter through which the content ins interpreted. We had an interesting experience here on a recent project. We had captured a set of stories around bereavement manually that then had to be entered into SenseMaker® . Those looking at the material as it was entered were concerned that it seemed very negative. However the material had been self-interpreted and when we looked at the interpretation of the narrative creators they has seen the material as positive. Now I have seen that on other projects but it was particularly vivid here
  • The use of workshops to gather narrative is (in the main) too strongly influenced by both the last speaker, but also memory and filtered rather than the experience itself. Its no surprise than many workshop methods are in part derived from therapy (and far too many facilitators use the language and style of therapists) which is a way of handling memory but does not reflect experience. In addition the discourse of the workshop shapes the memory with effects such as convergence and false conflict common. If we focus on self-interpreted micro-narrative and mark the points of capture between immediate experience and then both personal and collective reflection, then and only then will we get interesting research results.

Interestingly in two University sessions and a conference call this morning I was reminded of another example of pattern entrainment. Those most resistant to self-interpretation appear to be traditionally trained qualitative researchers and marketing professionals. Its almost as if the training to overcome the known deficiencies of qualitative techniques acts as an inhibitor to grasping a concept that quantitative people get a lot faster.

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