• Memory problems

    The problem with my memory is it used to be so good. Before age 20 I never took notes in class. Not one. It wasn’t necessary. My mind recorded everything. Then my brain changed and it has never been the same since. Gradually, my memory became less and less complete. Still, I finished graduate school only requiring the barest of notes to get by. Today, unless I make a special effort I can easily forget a shockingly large amount from a recent conversation or a paper I just read. Note taking would be helpful.

    But I suck at it. In general, I have very poor memory aid skills. Having never taken notes before age 20 and only barely needing them for the rest of my education, I never learned to do it well. Somehow, I muddle through. Writing summaries of papers helps, which is a lot of what I do on this blog.

    But it now looks like the perfect technology for my problem exists. It’s the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen, just reviewed favorably by James Fallows in The Atlantic.

    Here’s how it works: The somewhat plump looking, cigar-sized item […] is both a ballpoint pen — and a very sensitive, high-quality, high-capacity tape recorder. […]

    But in addition to recording sound, the pen also includes a very small camera at its tip, which many times per second takes pictures of whatever you are writing in the special notebooks. [… T]he pen registers exactly what sound you were hearing at exactly the moment you are writing a certain word, letter, or doodle. Then when you want to hear the recording, you can point the pen to that word and hear what was being said at the time. More on how it works here.

    What does this mean in practice? Suppose you’re having an hour-long interview, in my case — or listening to an hour-long lecture as a student, or sitting through an hour-long business meeting. When something comes up that you want to remember, you can write a note at just that point (“Interesting point about Poland”) and later go back to get just that part of the conversation. You do so by touching the pen’s tip to the relevant phrase in the notebook, or moving your cursor to it on a stored online image of the page. No searching through the whole hour’s recording; no need to make sure you write down every detail in real time.

    I’m very interested in this “pen,” which doesn’t mean I’ll actually buy one. Among other barriers, I’ve got work IT issues to iron out first. I am the master neither of my workplace computational domain nor of my memory, unfortunately.

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    • It gets worse as you get older. I have taken to bookmarking large numbers of sites on my laptop, but that is also getting unwieldy.