How Tech is Helping + Hampering Our Memory: MRMW Preview

Friday, April 18, 2014

Market Research in the Mobile World is coming to Chicago on May 27-30. I’m excited to be a participant because of the great cast that will be sharing. I appreciate the fresh inspiration and thought that these leaders are bringing to the table, so I spent some time interviewing a handful of them. Hopefully, this will give you a sneak peek into what the conference will be about, as well as some inspiration to motivate change and growth in your own market research practice. This is my third interview in this series, with Josh Cormie of Fresh Intelligence and Nick Drew of Yahoo!. They will be presenting a session on "The zero moment of memory: How technology is helping - and hampering our memory”.  They will be talking about the shift in memory usage and why that matters for researchers and marketers.
Renee: What should we expect to hear from you at MRMW North America 2014?
Josh & Nick: Memory makes us who we are as people. All the things you know how to do, all the people you’ve met, all the influences and experiences that have shaped you into the person you are, are a function of memory.
However, increasingly our memories are no longer stored in our minds, our most cherished moments are becoming nothing more than a series of computer codes coming together to form a digital picture or video. This is fundamentally changing not just how we playback our personal experiences, but ultimately changing how we remember our history.
While the advancements in technology have real advantages, at the same time, they create new gaps and vulnerabilities in our lives: if we delegate the task of remembering to a device, and take a photograph of every moment, do we remember it better or worse?
To better understand these questions we wanted to get inside the brain to see how technology impacts our ability to remember. We designed a comprehensive approach incorporating three main elements:
1. In-depth exploration using ethnographic mobile diary and activity based research “A day without your smartphone
2. Electroencephalography (EEG)
3. Online quantitative survey with memory test
Our research explores how memory is evolving as we delegate more and more to technology and the impact that it has on what makes us who we are as people.
Renee: What brought you to this topic, of all things?  Explain a bit about your background and how they helped this to become a passion area.
Nick: Much of the research Yahoo does is essentially about how our behaviours are changing as a result of technology. The smartphone, digital photography, wearable tech are all having an impact on what we do and how we engage with things. But I guess it’s natural to still wonder how you managed before all these were ubiquitous. Like when you arrange to meet a friend for a coffee and have to – have to - reach for your phone to make a note of the time, before you forget. Or when you’re at a concert and can’t see past the person in front of you trying to take a photo that will somehow perfectly capture the whole experience. It can lead you to some really interesting questions, about whether you could, if you tried, actually remember when you’re meeting your friend. Or whether taking that photo enhances your experience of the concert, or detracts from it.
I was mulling this over on vacation last fall. We saw the Northern Lights one night, and of course our first reaction was to reach for a camera. But the pictures that came out don’t actually show what we saw – the colours are all wrong. Apparently it’s quite a well-known phenomenon with the Northern Lights, although I didn’t know it before. So there’s this set of photos of what we saw, and then there’s my memory of what we actually saw; and I can’t help wondering if I’d remember it better if I hadn’t taken the photos.
And that, basically, is what we wanted to investigate in this project!
Renee: How might the researchers in the audience begin to think about the effect of technology on memory and how that plays out for each of the brands and categories they work on?  Will you have any next-steps for us?
Josh & Nick: There are a couple of important implications that the research points to. Firstly, we’re creating more and more data as we record more and more of our lives. All the photos we’ve taken, the contacts in our smartphones, the fitness data from our Nike Fuelbands. Over the next few years we’re going to see more of this data become integrated and joined up – and the importance of technology that helps us organise, store and share data will grow exponentially.
Secondly, marketing is ultimately about memory. So the behavioural shifts we see in the research are hugely important for brands. Taken together, they suggest that when communicating to consumers, just delivering the message and brand is no longer enough. Brands need to ask themselves how to make consumers experience brands and branded communications, how to encourage them to pay attention. “Likes” and clicks are not enough: brands need to engage and bring consumers back on a regular basis to build those essential associations and memories.
If you'd life to read more in this series, check out other posts here.


  1. Not long ago I found myself reaching for a camera to snap a picture of the Eiffel Tower as the sun set, and as I looked at my iPhone screen, I thought, “wait, as I’m doing this, I missing the actual sunset.” I was seeing the scene, not in living color, but through the lens of technology. Indeed, sometimes our reliance on gadgets not only alters our memories of events, but it also alters the ways in which we experience the events at the time.
    I also remember a time when I knew all of my friends’ phone numbers by heart; I could recite them without hesitation at a moment’s notice. Now, however, I don’t think I remember the phone number of anyone I’ve met after 2005. All of those numbers are safely stored in my phone.
    These changes in the ways in which we store memories and experience events present significant challenges to marketers. If customers can no longer remember lunch appointments or seven-digit combinations, how can we expect them to remember details about a brand that they may have “liked” last week? Marketers who want to significantly impact consumers’ views may now have to reach those consumers more frequently and through a wider variety of platforms than ever before.


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