EXPERIENCE AND MEMORY
Whatever is the composition of the desire for a vacation, be it a frantic recess from work, temporary divestment from domestic chores, recreational respite, historical trip, insistence upon familiar places/resorts or a simple shut off from one’s daily environment, a vacation seem to distract one’s mind from the stresses of existence. The thought of a holiday brings cheer and effervescence. We desire that our holidays are diverse and unique in experience and if the location happens to be new, there seem to emerge within us an aspiration to explore all the key tourist spots, resplendent views and ‘must see’ locations in the prescribed time. This stems from natural curiosity besides considerable money and time is apportioned to a holiday hence it merits indulgence and is only equitable that one maximizes the new location, food, culture, history, local events etc. and soak up the experience.
It is universal behaviour these days to capture photos on camera whilst holidaying and it almost appear to occur unconsciously. Capturing the holiday takes precedence over experiencing the holiday fully in the here and now. Now that is a generalized and accusatory comment and not applicable to all however is quite a prevalent phenomenon. 20 years from today, you bet, we love to see our photos and locations we travelled around therefore hard work of capturing them has to happen today hence the incessant clicks. Since we may not experience the same locations twice in the same holiday, clicking becomes a priority over experiencing. After the holiday, in addition to the accrued replenishment, we usually pull out the elements about the holiday from memory to regale others and ourselves. This is not bragging if practiced in moderation and is an accepted social convention. All of us have done it. Throughout life it is precisely these reconstructions from memory marinated with humour, emotion, facts, contexts and various embellishments that inundate most conversation in a social set up. This is why some people are raconteurs- master storytellers and immensely interesting.
Memory is never accurate, it fades with passage of time. In cognitive psychology ‘Retrieval cues’ bears immense significance in the reconstruction process from memory. Photos act as a retrieval cue and throughout life we are in need of many retrieval cues to organize our experience and life. Cue-dependent failure or retrieval failure is the failure to recall information without adequate memory cues. Here are a few cues:
- Semantic Cue: Word retrieval from a computer is a good example. A word or structure or meaning can act as a cue for us to trigger our thought in that direction.
- Context-dependent cue: It often happens to us, we do hear hilarious jokes now and then but when there is a need to reproduce a few at a party, we do not recollect it but if someone else begins a spree, our memory receives a context dependent cue and out they come.
- State dependent cues: We remain in various emotional states in life: sad, anxious, depressed, hilarious, happy etc. If similar happiness or anxiety or sadness kicks in, it could trigger our memory.
The photos of our holiday similarly provide us cues and trigger our memory. Our photographs are explicit to us as when we look at them later, it communicates the beauty of that point in time as well as our intent as to why we took it. Perhaps there was no great intent, the location was so great that we just kept clicking indiscriminately. However, the same photo if viewed by someone else may trigger a different meaning for that person. Contrary to this, paintings are not merely explicit, it has an implicit element about it.
Many paintings do explicitly convey the story and intended context the painter wanted to express but there are paintings where the painter expresses intellectual indebtedness to the viewer in deciphering the story or interpret the painting. Rembrandt was a master storyteller. In some portraits he puts the content within the grasp of the viewer but seeks the viewer’s imagination to infer meaning from it.
The point here is that generating retrieval cues whilst on a holiday happen to predominate our holiday’s raison d’être as against fully experiencing the splendour of the vacation. This immensely ties down our bandwidth and viewing dimension. The mindfulness aspect is missing. In any case we do not recount our past experience, we reconstruct it based on our present maturity, understanding, coping and state of excitement or melancholy that we are in. Perhaps like the painting analogy, we must learn to trust and train our imagination to reconstruct past events. I am not stating that one must renounce the photo capturing habit but let us be wary about the importance of experiencing the present after all the present is as important as future and demands attention.