43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

The downside of the outboard brain

The fate of human memory

Clive Thompson writes on a phenomenon I think about constantly: if you really do start entrusting all your ephemeral memory work to external systems, might your wetware start to atrophy?

Apparently, yes:

This summer, neuroscientist Ian Robertson polled 3,000 people and found that the younger ones were less able than their elders to recall standard personal info. When Robertson asked his subjects to tell them a relative's birth date, 87 percent of respondents over age 50 could recite it, while less than 40 percent of those under 30 could do so. And when he asked them their own phone number, fully one-third of the youngsters drew a blank. They had to whip out their handsets to look it up.

Haha, big joke, right? Not for me. Between me and TextExpander, only one of us knows my new VoIP number by heart. Without TE to paste it anywhere on command? Yep, I'd have to look up my own phone number. Sad.

But, Clive goes on:

My point is that the cyborg future is here. Almost without noticing it, we've outsourced important peripheral brain functions to the silicon around us.

And frankly, I kind of like it. I feel much smarter when I'm using the Internet as a mental plug-in during my daily chitchat...

And, in closing...

At the very least, I'd like to be able to remember my own phone number.

Now thinking that's something I might want to work on too.

drewmccormack's picture

Mental Case

I find this post uncanny, because it is exactly why I started developing Mental Case around 18 months ago. I was frustrated that I would forget things like my phone number, and have to fiddle around in my wallet or mobile phone to find it whenever I needed to give it out (which is quite often).

But that wasn't all I was forgetting: I would find myself constantly rediscovering useful information. To give an example, I'm a software developer, and I would frequently read about a useful programming library or web site, then forget about it. At a later date, I would need that information, and would waste time looking for it, only to realize I had already stumbled across it in the past.

And so it was that Mental Case was born. It's similar to other 'drop box' like applications, but with a twist: the things you put in are sent back to you. You can use this to help you commit the info to memory, or simply to remind you of it at some arbitrary moment in the future.

Another way I like to think about it is as a knowledge feedback loop. Everyday we are bombarded with information, most of which is useless. The trouble is that this influx dilutes the useful stuff. Mental Case feeds back that useful information, to reinforce it against the background rubbish.

Drew McCormack
Mental Case Developer




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »