Storytelling As A Modality To Organize Memories

In our reading for this week, The Power of Personal Storytelling, Jack Maguire writes about the many benefits that arise from the practice of personal storytelling.  The point that intrigued me most was his argument that “storytelling renders our livers more memorable”.  This forced me to question what if it means for our lives to be more memorable and how such could benefit our further experiences.  Maguire observes that on a basic level, composing a personal story is an act of making order out of the chaos of our memories, thoughts and emotions: “the exercise that our memory gets in recalling, developing, learning, and telling our stories makes it much stronger and more serviceable in every aspect of our living”.  This occurs due to the simple fact that storytelling helps us to access our spacial and navigational memory.

The TedxTalk above features Joshua Foer, a freelance journalist and the 2006 U.S.A. Memory Champion, who lives in New Haven, Connecticut and studies the art of trained, disciplined and cultivated memory.  In his Ted Talk he illuminates how people with strong memories have taught themselves a skill called collaborative encoding, which is knowing how to associate a visual and spacial image to things we want to remember. He argues that the art of memory is tied to our ability to take information that is lacking in context, significance and meaning and to transform it in some way so that it becomes meaningful in the light of all the other things that we have in our minds. As bad as we may be at remembering names and phone numbers and the word for word instructions, we have really exceptional visual and spacial memories. This is why storytelling helps us to have more memorable lives.  The practice helps us to define and regenerate our selves.

“We remember when we pay attention, when we are deeply engaged, when we are able to take a piece of information—an experience—and figure out why it is meaningful to us, why it is significant, why it is colorful, when we are able to transform it in a way so that it makes sense in light of all the other things in our mind” – Joshua Foer

“Story telling is perhaps the most powerful way that human beings organize experience. Some have argued that narrative thinking is the optimum form of thinking for learning and expressing what we know about our selves and about other people… In adulthood narratives provide a form for organizing huge amounts of information and serve a host of powerful psychological and social functions.” – Susan Engel

-Roshard Bryant

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5 Responses to Storytelling As A Modality To Organize Memories

  1. Miriam Beit-Aharon says:

    I LOVE this Ted Talk, because it explained what I have seen about my memory already. Not only that, but also how I learned my vocab words in High School. It also makes me feel better about not remembering much from my past that I haven’t turned in to a story at some point or other. The one thing I don’t like is that I will remember the story he tells at the very beginning for a very long time. 😛

  2. I also very much love this ted talk. I was very glad to learn that memory is something you practice and can improve on. I kind of knew that already but I did not believe it to the extent the video shows it to be. I thought of memory more like something you are born with like an arm or leg. Roshard, I think that its really important that you brought up the Joshua Foer quote about how we remember things that are meaningful to us. I find that very significant; its one of those simple facts that you don’t realize until its right in front of your face. Thanks for posting this ted talk and your ideas!

    Joseph Goldin

  3. Hannah Barg says:

    To echo everyone else: I have seen this TedTalk before, and love it – but I have never thought of applying it to storytelling. Having watched it again with storytelling in mind, the connection makes more sense, specifically in terms of using stories and memories to organize and find meaning in our lives. I think that the visual and spatial memories that Foer talks about are employed when recalling a moment that happened in one’s life, and by retelling the story, one can visualize the space and time in which it occurred. I found the last part of Foer’s talk to be the most compelling. He touched upon the idea of how we outsource our memory to technologies and that we no longer value training our memories. Yet Foer argues how a trained memory can give life more meaning and organization, he says: “If you want to live a memorable life, you have to be the kind of person who remembers to remember.” In order to understand our lives as narratives, and to develop a collection of personal memories, we must value and train our memories and in doing so “remember to remember.”

  4. Lena Jo Beckenstein says:

    For me, the most interesting thing about this TedxTalk (and actually, TedxTalks in general) is that Joshua Foer (and many presenters) use storytelling as a method to get across some pretty solidly scientific information. Foer could have presented this information in strictly scientific terms, but that would not have given us as an audience anything to click into, to identify with. When Foer talks about his experiences in visual terms, it gives us as an audience the ability to see what he sees, which makes us more ready to hear what he’s saying because we’re already on the same page. Had he merely told us the more science-y parts of his explanation, we may have missed a lot of key material. One reason that storytelling is important is that it allows us to take in information that might bore us if not told in a context that allows us to identify ourselves in it.

  5. Veronica Santana says:

    This TedXTalk kept making me think of how a lot my friends are surprised by the detailed stories I have of my childhood and adolescence. I have never had the best short term memory and can be very forgetful, but when it comes to stories whether my own, literature, fim, television, or historical events I have no problem detailing them. As the first quote Rochard puts here suggests, I find myself only being able to remember things that are engaging me on a personal level. I was never able to remember what I learned in science or math courses, because for me there was nothing interesting or exciting about them. There was no story or narrative which is how I retain and become absorbed in material. This TedXTalk, as Lena Jo said, is providing scientific information in a way I find interesting and can process. It is interesting to think of how storytelling techniques or narrative can be used to better teach science or math courses to those who connect to material in those ways.

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