Don’t Outsource Your Memory

The palest ink is better than the best memory

“The palest ink is better than the best memory.”

– Chinese proverb

How much stuff have you got rattling about in your head? How much better do you feel when you do a ‘brain dump’ and write it all down?

Most productivity systems suggest getting stuff out of your head and into an organised and accessible collection system that you can refer to often. David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ (aka GTD) is probably the most often cited and a good place to start if you want to know more.

We know our short-term memory is tiny compared to our long-term memory – try to remember 17751539872042 without writing it down. If this number is important enough, we can rehearse it until it comes part of our long-term memory.

I don’t think we can outsource all memory.

Nowadays we rely on our phones to store data, internet searches to confirm facts, and ‘how to’ videos to complete specific tasks. These are all good things but they are discrete tasks. Where is the synthesis?

The foundation of deeper thinking comes by combining one thing we understand with other knowledge we understand. If we only ever retrieve information and apply it as an automaton then do we really understand it?

So how deep does our thinking really go?

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