Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik was out for lunch with her colleagues in Berlin. They were fascinated by the waiter's ability to remember their orders without needing to write it down.
And when the food arrived, he was able to deliver the right meal to the right person.
Afterwards, she returned because she had forgotten her coat. She approached the waiter and was surprised he didn't recall who she was. She went on to develop what is now known as the Zeigarnik Effect, that is, unfinished tasks remain in the working memory.
However, as a former waiter, and current teacher, I want to propose a different explanation. The waiter was able to anchor the orders to the guests as they sat at the table. Take the customer away from their seated position, and you break the connection.
I get this all the time. If I see a student outside of school, say down the street, I struggle to recall their name. I need to place the face to the place.
Take the kid out of uniform, and I'd be lucky to even recognise them as a student.
Of course, this probably says more about my memory than of the human condition, but I think there is something to it.
Now that I have taken some of my notes out of the digital realm and placed them in my nascent slipbox, I am getting a new sense of connection to them. They now exist in a physical space. And this means I can think of them in new ways, ways that doesn't exist when they were digital.
The individual notes are like the customers at a table. There is an added layer of connection to them. When deciding where to place a note, I take them out to see where the note fits. It becomes a physical experience.
This process of having a note IRL reminds me of any kitchen. Imagine if someone comes into your kitchen and even switches the knives and forks around in your cutlery draw.
When you open the draw, you will automatically reach for where you thought the knives were and be surprised to find a fork. This knowledge of where to find things in the real world can only be simulated in the digital world.
The greatest example of this is from the film Amelie. She changes the type of door handles of the fruiterer just to mess with him. It perplexes him when his hand misses what he thought was the way to open the door.
The French call it mise-en-place, putting things where they belong not so everything looks neat, but so you can find it again. Easily.
Thank you for giving my writing a home in your inbox.
Until next week,