What is a Memorable Experience? I don’t Know (yet).

Have you ever thought about when and how a new memory is built? It probably is really simple. A new memory is made whenever a new thing happens. Let’s keep this simple system in mind and think about what people say, especially of my parents’ age, ’this year flew by so quickly again’, especially near the end of each year, I hear this a lot. This can mean that they’ve been just really busy that they concentrated in whatever goal they needed to achieve and didn’t have time to look back until now. Though, I have somewhat different analysis on this. Considering I rarely hear this quote from young people, I think it is closely related to new memories and new experiences.

To let you know first, I am not an expert on memories, but I’ve heard this somewhere that people think time passes by so quickly because there are no specific moments they remember about a day, a week, or even a year. For example, every moment for children is filled with different places, people, and activities and those moments are most likely be a new experience since they have less memories to compare from. So children’s days are filled with multiple new experiences and the days seem longer.

Let me tell you my own story. I’ve air travelled countless times so that I don’t even remember most of the times what I’ve done. I, however, have very vivid memory of my first 10+ hour flight. It was July, 2000. It was during the first summer vacation of my middle school. As part of a student tour group, I flew from Seoul to Rome. I was really angry about my seating because I was anywhere near my friends. I set at an aisle seat next to a couple who were on their honeymoon. They asked me couple questions like, how old I am, where and why I am traveling. The flight was really smooth, barely had any turbulence. Other passengers complained to the flight attendances for my friends being loud. I can just keep going on and on. The thing is, it’s been 16 years since this and I don’t find it anything special about this other than it being my first long flight.

As people grow older, especially the ones who don’t force them to trying new things, everyday life can be filled up with the moments of the places you’ve already been, food you’ve already tasted, people who you are already familiar with or share common interest with and experiences you’ve already go through. People say an experience is never the same because it always changes due to different circumstances. I agree. It will never be the same. I think it is just the matter of it being worth a new memory or not.

How can I make a memorable experience then? Because we now design experience, designers have the power to control it. Can personalizing every experience be the solution? Then what happens after the experience being fully personalized that every experience a person goes through is predicted and any unexpected pleasant surprise that the experience is not a memorable experience, but ‘just’ another experience? What will be the balance between the expected and unexpected experience then? From the memory stand point of view, new memories are built most likely whenever something unexpected happens but from the experience stand point of view, expected experience can be a good thing.

To wrap up, experience, similar to memory, is hard to measure, and hard to define the right value of each good or bad experience. Everyone goes through different experience even with the exact same one. Also, if we specifically target one persona, then I think it goes back to how much the experience have to be personalized.

Originally published at www.seungyounlim.com on April 10, 2016.