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As someone at least passably competent at productivity-enhancing procedures and tools, I've developed an extensive exocortex for information. This information usually enters the input chute from various sources into either Emacs and Evernote, gets buffered and processed using version-controlled files stapled to whatever application I'm using in a given context, exported into a public format, then cached and indexed for rapid recall based on a sparse list of tags and keywords that I maintain over time. It's a pretty efficient system. I haven't had cause to complain about it so far.

However, I've noticed a second order effect of maintaining so much information in easily-retrievable, always-online sources of information: my short and long term memory have both atrophied, as has my prefrontal cortex for verbal communication. As a result, I'm easily capable of writing a question like this one rapidly with the information that I have available and liberal use of buffering bits of information... but if I attempt to verbalize any of this knowledge for others, the result is this sputtering mess of cache misses and inaccessible context attributable to the lack of said buffer.

In short: my exocortex is so useful that it's made redundant my common senses for recall. My abilities to recognize information are firing on all cylinders, but my inability to recall information becomes terribly worrisome whenever I'm disconnected from my notes.

What are some strategies to counteract this problem?


I'm aware of the common methods of increasing short- and long-term cognition by exploiting the native capabilities of the human brain -- in particular, chunking and deeply meshing information through telling a story about it. But, I'm curious if there are general strategies for performing one or both of the following actions:

  • Making my exocortex available at all times, in the form of rapid prompting or the transformation of recognition into recall. An example of this would be aggressive use of Evernote.app with the information strategy mentioned above, with a broader approach for inclusion of text-based notes. Something simpler that what I've sketched out would be nice, though.

  • Making rapid recall possible for deep wells of information, through rigorous prioritization and memorization of only relevant information. In effect, something like Apple's Genius, except for facts and multiple sources of information.

In both cases, I suspect there's money to be made capitalizing on this problem. But, as a user, I'm curious as to what practical options exist, as either workflows or applications, that I might try.

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I'm not certain the causal link exists here. I too have a vast 'exocortex' but find my memory is still improving in efficiency, despite getting older.

As long as you use and challenge your real memory every day it will not atrophy (aside from the expected age-related issues...) so the answer here is to not offload everything onto a memory system, but only those things less commonly used (which would perform poorly in your memory anyway)

To do this, a strict adherence to a usage plan could be useful - assess the info you are using or accessing. If you think you may use it again, or if you have used it twice, memorise it. otherwise leave it in secondary storage.

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