This might well be called the year of memory. Already, I’m able to click on the icon that marks the Find function on my little pocket Treo. Can’t think of a friend’s last name? I enter “Myrna,” and in a second the screen invites me to choose Davis, Greenberg or Lewis. Can’t remember the name of a book by Jonathan Spence? This time, it’s Google to the rescue: three clicks gives the answer: “The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci.” And that’s just the start.
Apple has just released Tiger, its latest operating system, which includes Spotlight. Just as Google searches the World Wide Web, this new feature uses a word or phrase to find a document inside your computer. Microsoft is at work on a new operating system, Longhorn, with similar capability. Such powerful assists to memory raise a question never before conceivable: Why struggle to remember anything?
I’ve been increasingly aware of this phenomenon with my own memory. Emails are forgotten seconds after they’re read; Mail.app will keep track of those. If I’m having lunch with a friend and they bring up something I’ve posted to kottke.org recently, it often takes me several seconds to remember posting it…my weblog (my outboard brain) is where I put things that I want to “remember”. I’ve never been able to remember people’s names worth a damn, but until recently, I knew hundreds of URLs. Now my newsreader keeps track of those for me. I know 3 phone numbers by heart: mine, Meg’s, and that of my childhood home (where my dad still resides); the rest are in my cell phone. Birthdays and special occasions are in iCal…I know a few friends’ birthdays and when the 4th of July is, but that’s about it. And Google remembers everything else.
I’m sure with all that storage space in my brain freed up for other things, I’m able to do so much more with my limited mental faculties. If only I could remember…