store less

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I used to be good with phone numbers, I guess I remembered about 50 numbers (6 & 7 digits). Relatives, Friends, Buildings, Services, and about 20 radio stations all stored in my brain, no problem as I used these numbers and stored them. So what happened? Mobile phones happened. I started storing the frequently used numbers on SIM cards, in the beginning there was no service operator pre fix as all mobile numbers were 088 then 087 then competition arrived and numbers got longer by 3 digits and then an extra digit was added to the main number. Mobile numbers went from 6 digits to 10 and the SIM didn’t complain.

But would the vast amount of longer numbers in my phone have overwhelmed my brain?

I look at it differently. I believe, no, I know that the real reason I do not remember these numbers is because I stored them in a phone. The very act of adding the number to the phone says “I don’t have to remember that”.

With the demise of directory services which can cost as much as €2.00 per minute now to call, perhaps having the numbers in your own phone is ideal? Directory services are even harder to access when you are overseas. One example about 15 years ago, I was in Italy, I needed to hire some sound equipment from CSS Audio Visual in Dublin. I didn’t have their number in my phone, because i have had it stored in my brain since 1985. The number has moved premises more than once and had an 8 placed in front of its 33 area number, but my trusty old brain can recall it and I know I can rely on the brain for that number.

So why do we resign our memory and place faith in a SIM card or a phones internal memory or the cloud where these numbers are now moving to? We can store these numbers ourselves. Even if you choose to store them in the phone as a backup for the brain, the brain will relax as the hardware has it remembered. We can do it.

That is why I do not store passwords in my PCs or browsers. Those dialog boxes that ask you should the computer remember the password & username pair should be reworded to “stall your brain be allowed to forget this username & password pair from this moment onwards” as that is what will happen if you agree to allow a machine take what little memory power you are resigning. So I don’t resign.

Always convinced that I was good with numbers, and remembering numbers, I proved to myself that obscure passwords are even easier than numbers. Once an old employer of mine  contacted me 10 years after me leaving the company looking for a password to an old IOL.IE account, the password (similar to “WtstJplf”) was instantly retrieved from whichever part of the brain does the storage.

I store combinations of 100’s of passwords in my brain for servers, logins, email accounts. I have methods to remembering them (which I will explore in a future blog post) but the most important factor is to “use it”, use the brain to remember, use the brain often to retrieve them, and use the passwords often too. If all else fails there is a good secure “forgot password” sequence on all good logins. If I ever start to fail in recall of these passwords I will have an early warning system that something is changing.

Meanwhile after being introduced to someone new, and their name has been announced, I instantly can’t remember their name. Embarrassing? Yes. I could go on believing that I am no good with names, but I recently learned that the problem is that I am NOT LISTENING when there name is announced. I am too busy with some other important(?) social skill to bother to listen to the name of the person I am meeting. I am working on this aspect of memory. I saw a good item about this on BBC News, the expert “What’s his Name?” explained it very well, but I can’t recall his name :). Here the danger is that memory control is being conceded to the Google search bar. Yes, guilty as charged. But worse, I already realise that this is bad for me in more ways than one.

Just don’t resign the brain to being an information retriever. Store More. And have a healthy information diet, less is more, and store the less yourself, you will be more the wiser.