Offloading your Brain

It is important that we reserve the power of our gray cells. That is why a smartphone or a tablet is so useful to me. But before I start, allow me to spin a story…

One of my early favorite books was that of Sherlock Holmes. At one of the stories, he proceeded to ask Dr. Watson some issues about the solar system. After that which he said, “now that I know, I will now proceed to consciously forget about it.”

Dr. Watson asked him why, for which he replied, “We can only remember so many things, and since the information is of no potential use to me, of what value is it should I remember it?”

That was written well over a hundred years ago, and since then we have read that our mind is really of almost infinite wonder, but still, the fact remains that we can only remember so many things on the conscious level. At this time when information is growing at an exponential rate, there is even more reason to be very selective in what we store in our minds. We seemingly have a contest to remember the most useless things.

I had a chance to talk to one of my colleague, and he was complaining that 2 gigabytes of memory in his computer was not enough. I could not imagine that would not be enough, since when I started in computers, we only had 16k. Obviously, I noted the habit of not only running over a dozen programs simultaneously, but also keeping over a dozen emails opened. Even the powerful processors of today would feel the groan of such weight, and so does the human mind. I give him the comment that if he consciously reads each email, answers and resolves it once and for all, and methodically close them, his computer would run much faster, and not only his computer, but his own mind would be much less cluttered. In today’s world, where information is so vast, and hundreds of things cry for your attention, and we are all expected to multi-task, it really should be our prime goal to speed up our ability to get things done so that the number of open issues remains small, and we would feel uncluttered.

Which brings me to the utility of devices like smartphones…

In my own theory, would I not vastly use my brains better if I use it full force for observation and analysis instead of remembering things? How much of our mind do we put up remembering to do something later, remembering somebody’s birthday or some later appointment, a friends email or telephone number? Yes, trying to keep all of that in mind detracts your full attention, and like an open folder in a computer, eats up resources and memory, and slows down processing.

An article on Oct 2004 issue of Readers Digest entitled the Brain Explained also noted that it not the ability to take all information in ( noting the massive amounts of data the world is feeding your brain), but rather the ability to shut much of it out that’s key. As they say, “If you’re always paying attention to everything your senses is picking up, you would be overwhlemed”. Your brain, after all, at least its working memory, can remember only about seven distinct items, and if you try to hold more in your working memory, as in contrast to long term memory, more than 7 items, you will overload it quickly.

So there are devices. When somebody talks of an appointment, I write it down. When I remember something to do, I write it down. When somebody gives me an email address or a phone number, I write it down. When I need to remember a quote or a news fact that I read, I write it down. When I need to send an email, I write it down immediately. When there are minutes of the meeting or action plan that needs to be taken care of, I write it down. When there are memorable events, I take pictures, or have the conversation recorded. So in the course of the day, when I have some random thoughts that for instance for a topic for this blog, I write it down too.

I find this practice of immediately writing it down liberating, and unclutters my mind hopefully to focus at the things at hand rather than remembering many things. And the device can remember it infinitely better than any human mind. When I look at the topics I have to blog about in my phone, I would say half of them would have long been forgotten except for those little notes that I took at the moment when I thought about it. This process of speeding up decision making, and NOT remembering, can vastly help a person to be more productive. I would like to believe that when Bill Gates wrote about Business at the Speed of Thought, this would be what he would be thinking of. The tools to resolve an issue the moment you think about it and get on with other things.

In today’s world, getting organized, and preventing information overload, as well as making optimal use of your “gray cells” remains one of the most exciting challenges. If you have something to do, get it done immediately, or remember to do it later by letting a phone or computer remember it for you. What do you think?

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