Thanks for your interest in Refresh and the work we’re doing here to deliver insights and create deeper connections with our friends and colleagues.
Let me start with an interaction I recently had at my friend Sam’s house. Sam is someone I know from high school. Our friendship has evolved from frequent outings and trips in our early twenties to less frequent gatherings as our lives have gotten busier now in our now mid-thirties with marriage and kids. Sam and I see each other about every 3-4 months. Last time I saw him, I started with a mundane question of “How are you?”. His response was, “I’m doing well.” The ensuing conversation was typical for me. It started with light conversation about mostly trivial matters (the kind that fills entire episodes of Seinfeld). Then it led to news and current events. Finally, it finished with a deeper conversation about his choice of preschools for his daughter and the transition of having his wife re-enter the workforce.
As I listened to him, it dawned on me that he had posted a picture of his daughter’s first day at preschool on Facebook three weeks prior and I had in fact liked the photo. Yet, in his house and in his presence, I had no active recall of this event or post until he brought it up. We were both Facebook friends and connected on LinkedIn, yet we only touched on one meaningful conversation during our precious 30 minutes of catch-up between juggling kids and other conversations that night.
What about all those apps that show me the last tweet or last Facebook post from a friend. Could I have used one of those services to better my interaction with Sam? Perhaps, I could have. But I don’t ever find myself accessing those products before my interactions with friends and colleagues. Perhaps it’s pure laziness or perhaps it is over confidence in my own memory. Furthermore is the last tweet or post from someone the most relevant? The last thing I want to do is dig through a bunch of information only to find nothing interesting.
At Refresh, we looked more closely at this situation and ran a test to better understand how the information we share on Facebook translates to real world interactions. You can try this yourself. Go to Facebook and print out a list of all your friends. Now take that list away from your computer so that you’re in a different context and not influenced by what might be at the top of your Facebook news feed. Now, look at the list and randomly pick three people that you don’t see every day who are at least moderately active on Facebook. Ask yourself if you saw them today at an event what would you bring up in conversation or what would you ask about.
We did this test ourselves and were surprised by how little recall we had about events and happenings of those friends. Even important posts in the recent weeks, some of which we had explicitly liked or commented on, were very difficult to recall. It was like we experienced a mental block of sorts. Why was this happening? Why is it so hard to recall important information about people you already know and follow?
Psychologists from the Columbia University, University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Harvard asked the same question and came up with some startling conclusions . Their experiment focused on the use of Google search and the effects that it had on people’s memory and recall of information. The study found that we are more likely to forget things we believe can be accessed or searched online than things we think are not discoverable online. They coined this phenomenon the “Google effect”. It is our observation, here at Refresh that this same phenomenon occurs in the context information shared on Facebook and Twitter with regard to our friends.
In my case, I liked my friend’s post about his daughter’s first day at preschool, but when I saw him a few weeks later, I forgot to mention or ask about it. Facebook is becoming the primary way that we keep in touch and in many cases it serves as the primary vehicle in which we learn new information about our friends and family. Thus, just like a Google search query, we are in an active mode of discovery every time we open Facebook or Twitter. But most of the time we don’t commit that information to long term memory because we don’t know when we might need it again or don’t know when we will see that person next. Furthermore, as the study points out, we subconsciously know that the information can be accessed at a later time and thus we have a harder time recalling it when it might be relevant.
Beyond the pleasantries, shouldn’t it be easy to engage more deeply with the people in our lives when we meet face-to-face? Whether this phenomenon can be explained by the “Google effect” or basic weakening of memory over time, we, here, at Refresh are putting our efforts together to help solve it. We think that technology has a role and we think that it should bring us closer together both online and offline. But to do this offline, it must be seamless and transparent in such a way that it feels natural and comfortable. And only if it achieves that can we expect it to have a broad and deep impact on way we have conversations and foster deeper relationships with one another.