How do we cope with our growing digital lives?  How do we manage the ever increasing amounts of digital stuff we create and use?  This is the challenge of Personal Information Management.   

 

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Entries in memory (1)

Wednesday
Apr132011

To remember or not to remember, that is the question

Having recently trumpeted my aquisition of a tool that frees me from remembering passwords, I came across an interesting podcast on "The End of Remembering" which reflects on how the transition from antiquity to modernity has been accompanied by an ever decreasing reliance on human memory.  The speaker is a journalist named Joshua Foer who researched the culture of memory competitions and ended up becoming a competitor himself (also discussed in this article in the NY Times Magazine).  Given my interest in Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) this topic seemed relevant. Here are some interesting points that were made:

  • When books were scarce and few, people read them over and over again. They read them aloud to one another and could recite large passages from memory. Today, we gallop through books with barely a pause and rarely do we read them again.
  • The art of memory enhancement goes back to the ancient Greeks, who learned to use visual structures or "memory palaces" to help them remember large amounts of information. These techniques were widely used in the Middle Ages and Renaissance but have passed out of common use.  
  • The trick is in making things that are unmemorable, memorable.  The use of absurd, bawdy, even obscene imagery is part of the game.
  • People of average mental abilities can learn these skills. The ability to memorize large amounts of information is not limited to savants and extraordinary individuals.  

For me the question is, when would it make sense to memorize lots of information?  Joshua Foer does it because it's fun.  Fun and games aside, I don't see any immediate uses for this.  But I do like the idea of mastering information in a specific domain and being able to quickly draw on it without having to consult a book or a computer. Perhaps some of these techniques could provide better interior scaffolding on which to arrange this information. That, it seems, might be worth pursuing.

Robert Fludd, The Memory Palace of Music