Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Uploading history to the family cloud (Or, that didn't happen to you, honey)

My husband and I have been together for 17 years. And during that time, we've shared a wonderful son, a collection of amazing travel photos and a series of shared memories. We share those memories even when we don't mean to.

My husband was telling friends of ours about an always-hungry cat we had. And how, one night, while we were in bed, we heard a loud banging noise from the kitchen, but we didn't investigate because we were too tired. Sure enough, in the morning, we found the overturned food bin on the floor with cat food scattered everywhere and one satisfied kitty.

I listened to my husband describe the event in great detail - everything from the banging sound to the exhaustion to the food on the floor the next morning. Except, here's the thing. That didn't happen to my husband. It happened to me. And he wasn't home. In fact, he was 300 miles away at the time.

Once I convinced my husband that he wasn't there (which involved showing him the email recounting the story to him to prove it),  it got me interested in how these types of false memories occur. It turns out that these transactive memories happen in couples all the time - it's a way for us to share information. You can think of it has the low-tech version of storing information in a cloud (but instead of the ether, it's stored in your other half's head.)

But, it turns out that these transactive memories happen within families, too. (If you didn't click on that link - a transactive memory occurs when people remember separate details of an event, and added together, it makes a complete memory.) So now, our son is taking up the collection of our memory details: He is able to tell stories that he hears my husband and I share, even though they happened before he was born. When questioned, he will explain events in as explicit detail as you can expect from a young boy.

All of this is really helpful to him though - because he is learning our family history and his place in it. And studies show that children who know their family histories are actually happier overall with a better sense of self-esteem.

So, we tell him our family history. And it doesn't matter if the memories belong to my husband or me - it is our history, and it belongs to him now.

What memory did you borrow from your family member?

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