I believe every day is significant.

My memory sucks.

At least, I’m pretty sure it does. People around me (in general) seem to remember more details, more nuances, more aspects of the things that we experience mutually. This has frustrated me for over a decade. I would like to remember more of my days, more details about them, and why they were significant.

Thankfully, we live in an age of technological abundance, and many of the technologies around us aid the acquisition and retrieval of information. Google for the Web, Wikipedia for human knowledge, Evernote for personal miscellany — these all off-load memory in one way or another. So, being the human being that I am, I enhance myself with the tools at hand.

I have found through much experience that the perceived significance of my life derives almost exclusively from the sheer amount of details I retain about a particular time period. The more unique details I can remember about a day, for instance, the closer I seem to get to a “replay” of that day in my mind. Other intermediate details then appear between the “keyframes” those major details create, and the narrative reassembles itself like something out of Assassin’s Creed. Similarly, if I lose those keyframes, I also lose access to huge swathes of memory, as if someone deleted the index.

So if perceived significance correlates strongly with memory detail, it follows that maximizing perceived life significance requires maximizing recorded details to create memory keyframes. I’ve learned that such self-recording is similar to what many are calling the Quantified Self movement.

I’ve been quantifying myself in a number of ways throughout my life. I consider quantification to be anything I personally kept or recorded myself about myself. I can divide up these data segments into roughly four phases of my life.

1988 – 2001

  • Occasional written journal entries, letters to family, reflective school essays

2001 – 2007
Social / Digital Formation

  • AIM / ICQ / MSN conversations
  • Sporadic written journal entries, personal blog
  • Reflective essays, personal bios, emails
  • Workout activity on Palm III spreadsheets

2007 – 2010
Conscious Self-Recording

  • Typed chronological narrative journal entries, 1000-2000 words / day
  • Facebook / Twitter activity begins

2010 – Present
Self-Recording / Quantification

This breakdown is certainly not comprehensive, but it’s a start.

More to come. The steady rain tempts me to sleep.

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1 Comment

  1. You and I seem to wonder about the same thing! Except the difference in us is that I remember almost everything that happens in my life. Not saying I can tell you my whole life story in exact detail, but my memories are never blurry until there is something I don’t want to remember.

    Sometimes I feel like remembering things can be a choice, not on everything, but most things. Not only do I remember things, but I have a photographic memory. It comes in handy, but I only use it when I need to. Sometimes I forget I can use it, so obviously I can’t remember everything, but some things are better left off forgetting.

    Recollecting memories and tracing your steps backwards is pretty difficult when the only thing you’re trying to do is remember them. However, there are things all around that possess enough imagery or anything that catches any of your senses to help you flash back to a certain time or reminisce a huge part in your life. Sometimes trying to recollect memories isn’t intentional, and it happens at any given time, like remembering something we were trying to forget. One small thing that can catch one of our senses has so much power to help us recollect something buried deep within our memory bank.

    Even the most specific thing can trigger a memory. I can give an example: For the past five summers, I have been attending youth camp. We reside in cabins. I remember the first time I stayed in the cabins, I was told the wood used to build the cabins was oak. All you could smell in the cabin was the wood. The smell was general, not anything you could really distinct from other smelling wood since we tend to think all wood smell the same.

    Youth camp was a great time for me. Some of my best memories were in the cabin! Anyhow, it was early spring before my third year going to camp. I was visiting a nature museum where this room called the atrium held all different types of wood. I was at the border of Texas and Louisiana; I was never given the name of the city since it was a school trip. We had a chance to win a free souvenir if you could guess the type of tree it was by the smell or look. I have no knowledge on what tree is what. I had a chance to try it out. Each piece of wood was cut into a square. They all had different designs, but that still didn’t help me. Then I came across a piece of wood the smelled really familiar. It took me back to youth camp, and when it did, I suddenly remembered the time I was told the cabins were made from oak. Turns out I was right on guessing oak. It’s really weird on what the senses can help not only from distinction, but from different times of our lives… Specific times.

    I can give you one more example. Some memories can be real miniscule. I was part of my high school marching band, and in 2011, I had UIL Regionals at the Waco Collesium. When I was performing my show, I was so used to the movements that I guess I was put into autopilot. I was looking through the audience and saw different faces not really paying attention to what they were wearing.

    About a year later from that competition, I was at Walmart, looking through some shirts to pass the time and I came across a shirt that looked somewhat familiar in a way. It was a lime green shirt with the words "I am juicy" written in bubble, bolded letter. For some reason, I had the biggest feeling to look through the school pictures from my old marching competitions in the yearbook from that year ago. As I was looking through the pictures, there was a picture of the audience, and as I scanned through the picture, I found it. The same exact shirt worn by a teenage boy in the stands.

    Reminiscing is fun, sometimes unexpected, but it leads us to recall things that we don’t seem to understand why we recall them. Like dreams. If people in our dreams are people we see on any ordinary day but don’t even seem to notice, then just think about how any specific thing out there can help us recollect forgotten memories. Those gut feelings we get, or the times we dream of something we forgot to remember. Something, somewhere triggered those memories. It sparked something in our brain to give us a clue! It could be microscopic or humongous, but it’s still a clue.

    By telling the truth, that’s what helps me remember everything. Objects. Smells. Sounds. Dreams. It gives me the ability to remember specific conversations I once had. The ability to recall a certain day at a certain place at a specific spot. The list can go on and on, but I thought I should tell you that. Try sitting somewhere. Like a playground check the date, just a quick glance. Then study everything around you. Be observant. The strength of the wind. The power of the sun. The cloudiness, the noise level. Everything. The size of the grass, the size of the trees. Don’t try to memorize what you see, but realize that it’s there. Then someday, far from that day, maybe even when you’re thirty years older. You feel the same wind you felt that day, or saw the same exact looking tree from that day, or even hear the same child laughter from that same day, it will spark the playground. The day you were there, and the time you were there. That’s how it works for me.

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