Sunday, September 27, 2009

Learning Log VII: Unreliable Memory

The parallels between chapter 5 of Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, and material we covered in class last week are fascinating. In chapter 5, Norman discusses the aspects of human memory and how designers must cater to the nuances of the mind. We may not remember the littlest things, but our brains also have the power to retain incredible pieces of data. He believes that memory is like a filing cabinet and thus cross-referential (Norman 115). In 1988 this was a relatively new theory about how we store our memories, but it makes plenty of sense, as this explains how we use prior experiences to make new decisions even with a change in context.

The WNYC talk show Radiolab, however, is recorded in the 21st century and can provide us with a new perspective. As the hosts discussed, memory is a very general thing and can be modified over time by idealizations created by the human mind. Norman even touches on this a bit in a section entitled The Connectionist Approach, stating that our memories are a result of “compromise” (117).

With this knowledge I’ve come to a personal conclusion that memory is a powerful yet ultimately unreliable facet of the human condition. Designers should never rely on one’s memory, unless there is a strict standard on what people are expected to memorize. For instance, nearly everyone knows their phone number(s), but how many people can remember what they ate last Tuesday? It’s unlikely that the latter would be used in a case like this, but the comparison goes to show that memories are both vast and temporary, often disintegrating into a general feeling more so than specific points of information.

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