Vivek Haldar

Need to remember

Carr delves into the differences between computer and human memory. Go read that. I agree with him when he says that human memory has more associative power than computer memory1.

But given that, an interesting question is how to determine what to commit to my personal wet memory, and what to store outboard in dry memory. Given some random fact, is there a test I can apply to it to determine where it should go? How many times have you thought that you should have remembered something without having to look it up, or that you really didn’t need to clutter your head with something and could have just as well relegated it to your outboard brain?

Imagine if it took you five seconds to remember your spouse’s name. Or even their birthday. That would be bad. So latency of access is an important criteria. You should remember things you need to know really fast.

But with things like augmented vision, and further out, brain implants, the latency difference between wet and dry memory will vanish.

Memories are cherished. They are the fodder of nostalgia. We go to great lengths to acquire them. How many dares have you done thinking it would make a good story to tell your grandkids? What exotic locales have you traveled to to make great memories?

But memories are also stressful. There are unpleasant things you don’t want to remember. There are things you need to remember that are stressing you out – birthdays, appointments, todo lists. GTD caught on like wildfire because it brought a workable system to bear on externalizing all that necessary trivia that makes up a modern life.

For much of human history, the default answer to “should I remember this?” was “yes”, with narrow and specific exceptions. Right now, we’re somewhere in the middle. But all the technological trends inevitably point in the direction of turning the default to “no”, with fewer and fewer exceptions.

Does this mean we will eventually turn into memoryless biomass? I don’t think so. Because memory is what makes us who we are. It makes us individuals. Ultimately, we won’t need to remember anything, so we will only remember what we want. It will be the purest expression of ourselves.

  1. For now. I think large systems are rapidly getting the capability of understanding concepts and making associations between them. The next step would be to personalize that. ↩︎