Speakers, it turned out, were 46 percent more likely to laugh than listeners — and what they were laughing at, more often than not, wasn’t exactly funny. Neither listeners nor speakers seemed to be laughing at traditional jokes. Provine and his team of grad students recorded the ostensible “punch lines” that triggered laughter in ordinary conversation. They found that only around 15 percent of the sentences that triggered laughter were humorous in any reasonable sense of the word. The big laugh lines included:
I’ll see you guys later.
Put those cigarettes away.
I hope we all do well.
It was nice meeting you too.
We can handle this.
I see your point.
I should do that, but I’m too lazy.
I try to lead a normal life.
I think I’m done.
I poked around Johnson’s website a bit. He’s written about traumatic memories and the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Eternal Mind:
Selective erasure of memories may not be a feasible procedure in the near future, but cosmetic memory enhancement is likely to be a reality in the next 10 years, just as targeted mood enhancers like Prozac have become commonplace over the past 10. You won’t be able to sharpen your memory of a single person, but you may well be able to take a pill that will increase your general faculties of recollection. This is the ultimate irony of Eternal Sunshine and films like it. While the culture frets over the perils of high-tech erasure, we should really be worrying about the opposite: what will happen when we remember too much.
Johnson is at work on a book, Everything Bad Is Good For You: Why Today’s Pop Culture Is Making Our Kids Smarterabout videogames, mainstream media and their alleged harms.