Forget literature: Facebook updates linger in memory

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2013 - 2:53 PM
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Such carefully crafted literature, so many memorable lines.

“Call me Ishmael,” wrote Herman Melville.

Zora Neale Hurston penned, “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

Then there’s Charles Dickens’ oft-quoted “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. ... ”

Yet next to Facebook status updates, it turns out, such classic prose is utterly forgettable.

That’s right, researchers say people are better at remembering quotidian quips like “I hate Mondays!” than the best of William Shakespeare, or Tom Clancy, for that matter.

Participants of the study at the University of California, San Diego, reviewed a selection of random status updates from Facebook and were then asked to look at a larger set of updates, identifying with a degree of certainty which ones they had seen before. They also did the same with sentences selected from previews of popular books on Amazon.com.

Recall of the Facebook statuses compared with the literary sentences was akin to a healthy person’s recall vs. that of someone with amnesia.

Why? The researchers concluded that our tendency to recall “trivial ephemera” from Facebook may come from being hard-wired for gossip — we’re a social species, after all.

Plus, the more than 30 million Facebook updates posted every hour more closely mirror regular speech, sinking in more easily than edited prose. Status updates and other “microblogs” like tweets, however frivolous, also tend to be complete thoughts, researchers noted.

Of course, sentences from randomly selected online news stories didn’t stick, either, when compared with reader-written comments, which researchers likened to status updates and tweets.

Thus, the next time you check Facebook, this article will fade from memory. □

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