On “Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not”

Carey, B. (2009). “Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not.” New York Times Online. Visited on 1 July 2010.


Summary: This article discusses destination memory and its affect on different social situations. It explains that people often remember the source of a memory but not its intended destination. The article distinguishes that remembering whom you’ve told a story to uses a different kind of memory from the actual story itself.

Source memory, the ability to recall where a fact was learned, is different from destination memory, which is to whom the fact was told. The article goes on to explain that who we tell our stories to is a critical part of our social identity and that repeating oneself can be damaging and embarrassing.

In a study at the University of Waterloo 60 students were asked to tell personal and random facts to the faces of 50 famous people. The outcome of the study was that the subjects did not tend to remember which facts they told to whom, even when it was personal information. The results suggest that no matter how personal, or important, the story, there is the possibility that if the audience has heard it before the storyteller may be met with rolled eyes and a “been there, heard that” attitude from the listener.

A greater understanding of destination memory means that scientists may have a greater comprehension as to how memory works. Actively remembering who knows which details of ones life may be a key factor in age-related memory problems. Another side is understanding the implications of our destination memory actions. Putting private information into the public domain (e.g. on the internet) means that the destination of the memory becomes unknown.

Conceptual Design: Few people (politicians, salesmen, etc.) tend to practice their destination memory. By putting a name to a story, for example: “Hi Gail, thank you for your vote,” the destination of the story is more easily retained and therefore the teller is more likely to make less mistakes as to whom they have told. There are a few products that could benefit from the destination memory study. The first are educational products. If it is proven that improving destination memory can help with age related memory loss, then products like memory games, study guides, and Internet applications for memory recall can be marketed and sold. Another group that could benefit from this study are reputation management agencies. Publicists and public relations agencies clean up and protect destination and source memories from the public eye, trying only to release the right information to the right people.

Interaction and Interface Design: As people are increasingly becoming more connected through technology and the Internet (dating websites, e-mail, social networking sites, etc.) large amounts of personal information become available, in a relatively easy way to access, to the public. In the future there will be a strong need for people to who want some of there most private information guarded or removed from the public eye. PR agencies will not only be for celebrities and public figures, your regular average person may need an PR agent to know how to keep an indiscretion from a lifetime ago from appearing on a Google search.

Using destination memory for age-related memory loss is more tangible and concrete to understand. Scientists have been working for many years on memory related syndromes like Alzheimer’s or dementia. It may be proven that working out our destination memories may be beneficial to our long-term memory retention in old age, much in the same way that some doctors recommend crossword puzzles.