Mr. Short-Term Memory

brain_with_postits-resized-600There was a sketch on SNL years ago, “Mr. Short-Term Memory, starring Tom Hanks, I think. The main character possessed only a short term memory. Anything past a few minutes of information vanished. A typical conversation between the character and his doctor might go something like this:

Doctor: “Good Morning, Mr. Smith. The surgery went well. After a few days of rest you can go back to working at the button factory and playing golf on weekends.”

Mr. Short-Term Memory: “Oh, thank you, Doc. I feel better already.

Doctor: “That’s great, but you really need to rest.”

Mr. Short-Term Memory: “Hiya, Doc! How did the surgery go? When can I go home? I really want to get back to work. I would give anything for a round of golf right now.”

Doctor: “Well as I said…you’ll remain here for a few more days and then you can get back to your normal routine then.”

[Doctor turns to leave.]

Mr. Short-Term Memory: “Hey Doc, when do you think I’ll be going to surgery. I want to get this over with so I can get back to my normal routine.”

The SNL version was funnier, but you get the idea. A conversation with Mr. Short-Term Memory is exasperating because you must reintroduce everything.

I’ve come to realize that advertisers, particularly those for television shows and movies treat consumers, potential viewers, as if we are Mr. Short-Term Memory. As a consumer, it is extremely annoying. I am mostly annoyed with the content of the advertising. The hook–the funniest joke or most sensational line–serves as the content of the ad. For movies, all the funny jokes are let out of bag. By the time you see the movie, it’s like you’ve already seen it. Everything else–what you’ve not seen–is just filler, like packing peanuts or bubble wrap.

This bait works well because it plants a memory in the mind and gives the consumer something to connect to when they are watching. Also, it can convince the consumer to invest their time and money (in the case of movies) into the show. Of course this is what advertisers want. I am disappointed when I do make the investment only to discover that the bait is better than the entire program. But this baiting does work.

More annoying than this are the previews of what’s to come during programming on television. In the weeks or days before a show, the preview commercials are on a continuous loop–played repeatedly. But then, while watching the show, you are told what’s coming up in the next segment after the commercial. When the show returns, you are shown the lead up to what you just previewed and then what you just saw in the preview. I think this is mostly done in reality shows. I. Hate. This. Why is this done? Do the advertisers think the viewer is going to forget their investment of time to watch the show from beginning to end, and thus deem it is necessary to remind the viewer of why they should stay tuned? This is a plausible reason considering that many viewers may be subject to distractions while viewing. We switch channels, live tweet, talk to whomever is watching with us, answer calls, along with a host of other things. Television watching is not something we gather around to do, forsaking all other tasks–we can pause it mid program, too!

While I understand advertisers’ inundation on our short-term memories, I don’t have to like it. It is both solving the problem of our short attention spans and training us to be Mr. Short-Term Memory. Routinely, when people tell me they will do something, I don’t believe them, mostly because I think the person will forget. We are all Mr. Short-Term Memory.

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