Information Synthesis, Organization, and Spatial Memory

There is a common phenomenon where people tend to forget what they were thinking about as soon as they leave the room, as the idea had germinated in the prior environment. It appears that our brains tend to subconsciously associate the environment with the the thought itself, not just where it is stored.

Common wisdom states that if you wander into the kitchen and do not recall for which purpose it was that you embarked on that trip (assuming it is for something a little more than retrieving food), walk back into the room, i.e. revert to your initial geospatial position and the chances of recalling your original purpose increase.

Sensory Invocation

This has various implications in that context-switching when entrenched in deep work helps jog the brain, and I think that this plays an understudied role in the breadth of thought, the space for exploration, as different contexts invoke different thought processes, sense, and emotions, which naturally lead to the formation of unique thoughts thereby influencing the subsequent recollection of those thoughts.

These observations carry several implications in the context of information, particularly, within the digital realm:

  • Organization & Storage—Storing information has to be related to the type of information it is. At present, text files are stored in Dropbox, local file systems, Google Docs, email, and any other application you might use. Each of them has a separate silo which is regressive in terms of organizing by type.
  • Creation & Synthesis—synthesizing thoughts is heavily influenced by the environment in which those thoughts are pondered, explored, and provoked. This warrants further exploration on its own but the crux of the matter is different environments enable the synthesis of different thoughts (which is rather obvious).
  • Information Retrieval—barring optimal organization, it is rather cumbersome to retain the locations of information for retrieval. Ideally, this would be catalyzed dynamically without the user looking maintaining the overhead of location. E.g. higher-level abstraction of information stored within memory as opposed to low-level memory block storage. Arbitrary naming of files and lacking an expansive mechanism of search across silos is highly inefficient and inhibits the retrieval of distributed information.

An ideal information storage and retrieval system:

  • Rule 1: Abstracts across silos and locations (memory block analogy) for the purposes of storage and retrieval.
  • Rule 2: Emphasizes the representative value of content over the underlying naming schemes and structures (no filenames or types).
  • Rule 3: Utilizes contextual storage/assignment of information towards human accessibility and interaction.

However, present systems and applications:

  • Silo their information for their own purposes (to encourage network effects, stickiness, and profit), breaking the first rule.
  • Utilize regressive and inefficient metaphors inherited from the paper-based desktop office, breaking the second rule.
  • Leave it up to you to organize and find your files, which after decades of computer use and information acquisition and storage, you tend to lose track of.

Therefore, it is recommended that the entire paradigm of informational computing be carefully reconsidered and built from the ground up with focus on the representative value of information, structuring and organizing that information in a digital-first way and making accessing/retrieving, and manipulating that information intuitive to humans. I'm working on this with @jtvhk.