Can we implant and alter memories deliberately? It’s a recurring theme in our pop culture, from Total Recall to Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The preliminary answer to that is a theoretical Yes.
There’s a famous saying from a relatively new branch of psychology called Narrative Psychology: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” This principle lies at the heart of new therapeutic practices that help patients reconstitute and reinterpret traumatic memories into more positive ones. While the details of the memory are not deliberately changed (in most cases, we believe) the meaning of those memories, even the specificity of them, are indeed altered to aid in the patient’s healing process. And in reality, we humans often create revisionist memories, either to block out the bad ones or to create another happier reality.
We know, first of all, that we’re altering our own memories every time we remember them. Technologies such as writing, photography, film/videography, audio recording – of course help us to reinforce the original memory with a greater degree of accuracy. But even when we watch a movie for the second or seventh time, each time the experience is a little different. And each time, we may see something that we didn’t remember from a previous viewing.
But what are the possibilities when it comes to implanting new memories? Can we take a page from narrative psychology and help our audiences remember important parts of their lives differently, in order to bond them with our brands?
The recent campaign called “Go RV’ing” tries to do this. In a very well produced YouTube film, it tells us that when we (presumably grownups) were children, we had the freedom of going outside and riding our bicycles, going camping, exploring the wilderness, and not being glued to our devices or caged in our houses by anxious parents. “Kids want their wildhoods back,” it exhorts us.
As I was watching the film, which I found very evocative, I agreed with the premise. I have many clear memories of exploring the forest behind our apartment building in Chatham, New Jersey, of riding my bike a few miles across town to visit my friends, of bringing home insects and salamanders to my rather horrified mother after forays into the woods. Yes, I thought, there must be a lot of people like me, who remember those experiences and compare them to the caged and wired world that our children experience today.
At the same time, I had to wonder: In some cases, is this campaign ‘incepting’ these memories in the audience? Is it intensifying those memories into a kind of Garden of Eden, where we’re led to believe our children have been expelled from a kind of paradise? Perhaps so. And if that’s the case, then this campaign is very cleverly using the creative quality of memory to instill longing and emotion. I fully they’re going to sell RV’s to lots of Canadian families.