It’s about the memory of the journey, not the journey itself

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Daniel Kahneman says that “We don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences. Even when we think about the future, we don’t think of our future normally as experiences. We think of our future as anticipated memories.”

If we are only working with memories to understand our experiences, and memories are so fallible – inaccurate (e.g. unreliability of eye witnesses) and time collapsing (e.g. unless experiences are created nothing new is stored) – what is in fact real or more interestingly, shouldn’t we be able to influence the memory to create better thinking? User experience strives to achieve just that.

Very often user experience professionals will articulate the number of clicks or time it takes to complete a task as if that alone provides a better “experience” when in fact we can now think of this as a better memory of the experience. This is why we are bombarded by spinning circles and blinking messages of “loading” etc. At least something is happening and while there may be delay, if the result is sufficiently valuable it the time was well spent. Of course, most user experience professionals are not asked to help design the result of the waiting, since they are often not experts in the content itself, just in how it is displayed and how it affords usability. Unfortunate, no?

Given that memories are the best of what we can work with to think and make sense of present reality; one might conclude that the variety and volume of experiences – ones that generate memories – makes for a richer set of things to influence our views of the self, world and others. Consider that the Kahneman says, “…we don’t think of our future normally as experiences. We think of our future as anticipated memories” one might conclude that practiced visualization is the act of clearly articulating a vision of our future self – the goal – and thus much easier to achieve. What about the current cultural context of digital identity and the ability to remember every day of life in photos, videos and story. Does repeating the stimuli activate the memory or does it create a new or augmented memory?

Kahneman illustrates the conflict of the experiencing self and the memory self with an example of someone who thinks California is a happier place to live than Ohio based on climate. Apparently climate is not a critical factor for how happy the experiencing self is, but because the memory of Ohio weather is so distasteful, California is better and the person is satisfied in having made the right choice. Saying you are happy with your life and living a happy life are two very different things.

What we understand our experiences to be are memories, which are at best uncertain. We might be able to impact how we remember things, but for the most part we are not in control of how we create memories. When we think about our past or our future we are considering memories real or imagined. The experiencing self is fleeting with more moments than we create memories of.

Google Search is Fast!
Google Search is Fast! (0.33 sec)

If you are like me you use Gmail as at least one of your email clients. Everyone thinks of Google and thinks fast. After all, they tell you how fast the search query took to complete. However, Gmail isn’t very fast. In fact it is kind of slow. Sometimes it is not even responsive. Sometimes my mail doesn’t even render. But I know it’s built on impressive technology and services more than just me. It is so great that even if I don’t see my mail I know it’s there, it’s just not surfacing right now. A minute later, maybe it is a second later, it is available. Regardless, I feel it is fast, but I think it is slow. It is also free and better than many other email experiences – I am sufficiently delighted.

Firebug Net Restuls in Loading my Gmail account
Firebug Net Restuls in Loading my Gmail account (7.12 sec)

It is important to create experiences that delight, but even better to create memories of delight. In designing experiences – to please, to influence, to inform – creators would be wise to focus on the memories people have, the ones we want them to have and the ones we want them to imagine, and not how to distract us while we are waiting out turn to be underwhelmed.