Thinking back to my school days, my exam MO involved ignoring everything until there was barely any time left to learn it, then frantically cramming as much as possible.
And there was one clear technique that worked, for me. Writing. Writing down the facts, the data, the story I was learning, the equations, the relationships, whatever I was stuffing into my head. Sometimes again and again and again, but really pretty much just once or twice, which considering I was such a dreadful procrastinator, and had no time, actually makes sense.
I was more than a little surprised the first time it became clear that the difference between how well my revision had been converted to memory, or not, was as simple as writing it down. No-one had ever told me. They had told me to write stuff down, but they hadn’t told me in any way at all, that this could be the single most effective differentiator of success, for me, in remembering stuff.
Just making a note, in case I forget to tell someone too.
I have technology fantasies from time to time, a moment of two when I “invent” the latest new tool that will revolutionise how we organise our thinking and our data. It’s always short lived of course. My ideas are usually hopelessly specific and therefore have a narrow appeal, often just me, and then, even if they are good ideas this is hardly the stuff of revolution.
Sometimes I’m pretty sure it’s all already out there, the required technology that is, and I just need to assemble my version of it. That is to move from thinking about it, to actually doing it, building it.
So, here’s what I’m thinking I want today.
It’s a mixture of software and hardware, a browsing aid. A tool that helps me to extract certain key bits of data, quotations, webpages, forum posts or just snippets from any digital source, transfer them to a separate location (both in terms of storage and presentation), annotate them automatically with relevant metadata such as authorship and source, prompt me and aid me with setting up a tagging folksonomy, provide randomisation through visual presentation and lastly, as if all that wasn’t enough, I’d like a highly versatile analysis interface designed to help me yield interactions and relationships between all the information I will have gathered.
Imagine a browsing session. Maybe single topic, maybe not. And you come across a short paragraph that encapsulates a certain point, a viewpoint a position. You snap the words with your fingers, as you currently do to select text on a smartphone, and issue a voice command
“Push to window”
And in an instant the quote, author, source are stored in what I guess only needs to be a fairly rudimentary database. Immediately I return my mental energy to the thread of my session, the full depth of the single source I was reading. This may well happen many times an hour.
Visually meanwhile, the data is being randomly built onto a massive digital whiteboard that covers the whole of one wall to my left. When I issue the command “Push….” I see in my mind’s eye the quotation being flung across the room and landing on my whiteboard.
On a regular basis, which will be customisable but maybe every 45 minutes, I will be prompted by the system to assign a purely subjective tagging folksonomy to each data point. Why subjective? Because I want to use it to drip thoughts into developing streams of inter-related ideas.
The tagging lets me come back to the data at later times, and using a variety of combinations facilitated by the tagging, use the whiteboard to push the data back to me in ways designed to help me see otherwise missed connections and value.
Today’s “Push to window” quotes:
My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. Some people were extremely upset by the first Edison recordings. It nauseated them, terrified them. It sounded like the devil, they said, this evil unnatural technology that offered the potential of hearing the dead speak
We know that something happened then. We know that broadcast television did something—did everything—to us, and that now we aren’t the same, though broadcast television, in that sense, is already almost over. I can remember seeing the emergence of broadcast television, but I can’t tell what it did to us because I became that which watched broadcast television
Conversation is not the same thing as correspondence
Just as we look back at the beginning of the previous century and shake our heads at how people could ignore the pollution they caused, future generations will look back at us — living in the early decades of the information age — and judge our solutions to the proliferation of data
So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself
So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship
Links for the original source material