Memorizing My Daybook
cognition | mood & emotion
Steven Jonas has been using SuperMemo since he read Gary Wolf's article about the tool in 2010. In this talk, Steven introduces a new project he’s working on using SuperMemo–memorizing a daily log he keeps of interesting things that happened during the day. Watch his fascinating talk to hear how he’s attempting to recall every day of this life.
Memorizing My Dayboook
Hello everybody. My name is Steven and today I’m going to talk about how I used a technique called Space Repetition to remember individual days from my life. If you haven’t heard of Space Repetition, and for some it requires explanation, it is a method from remembering information that one has learned. Our memories are facts as well as personal events add a natural decay rate. Once that memory decay is to a certain point a person loses the ability to recall a piece of information, otherwise called forgetting.
But space repetition is designed to prevent that decay by testing you on that information, usually in the form of a flash card. So for example if you had a card that asked what the capital of Mali is by actively recalling that its Bamako that fact is strengthened and you’re going to remember it for a longer period of time. So that means repetition is really good for keeping these facts and memories strong. But if one wants to be efficient as possible of remembering this information, then you would only want to repeat it a minimum amount of times, in keeping it fresh and not repeating that information.
And so that is the design principle behind a bunch of space repetition software that’s out there that helps automate this process. The algorithm then that is used is it predicts when I as a user will forget a piece of information.
And so this technique has actually been used by people in the QS community to do really incredible things; Jeremy Howard use it to become proficient in Chinese in a year, and Roger Craig used it to with Jeopardy of all things.
So for me personally, most of the flashcards in my space repetition collection are centered around facts and largely involves science and history. In 2010, I started playing around with life blogging. I had my iPhone around my neck and I created these tiny videos from my day, and made those into a flashcard. And with the way it worked is that you watch the video and you said what day it is. What I found though is the videos were boring, so instead of watching them I just started making notes on the side of what I saw in the video.
And so in the end I only did this for about two months. It was pretty tedious, and I just sort of dropped it because it was too much to record the videos and upload and import them. But it stayed and lingered in my subconscious for a while.
And on July 4 last year I started making flashcards about my day again. But this time I ditched the video, and instead I just wrote out what I did on particular days. So there was no video, and there was just line by line of what I could remember that I did during that day, similar to a daybook.
Before I made it really easy to know the answer, because all I had to do was get the month right, but this time I said, what if I made it so that I had to get the exact day. Because I thought that would be really difficult, and I just wanted to see if this technique would be powerful enough to allow me to do that.
So I started this, but I actually thought I would fail because it just seemed like a new card every day, and how would I keep all of these things separate. But one thing I find is I like to see how things fail you know, where does it break, what can I learned from the nature of memory from that.
So I’ve been doing this for the past 10 months, and I’ve made 253 cards out of 302 potential days, so that a rate of about 84%, but the intention was every day but you know stuff happens. During that time, I have learnt several significant things.
The first thing I learned is that this did not fail or at least not yet. I quickly learned that my hypothesis wasn’t totally wrong. See, I’m not particularly good at remembering that exact date that an event has occurred, however I can use logic to figure out the probable answer. So let me explain what I mean.
Let’s say I had a card, and it has a few items. One says I went to work and I broke down my aquarium and took it home. Well I know that is something that I did on a weekend, and that card also mentions that they bought some costume stuff which tells me that must be in October. In fact I did remember that we did have Halloween shopping at the last minute, so this must be the weekend before Halloween.
Now looking at all of these events, I think they happened on a Saturday. I don’t have a specific reason, but Sunday just doesn’t feel right. And then I just recalled that Halloween was on a Thursday in 2013. So Thursday was the 31st, and the preceding Saturday was five days before that and you do the math you know 31 minus five gives me the answer 10/26/13.
Now of course most of this internal dialogue is happening pretty quickly, but sometimes it is still quite slow and deliberative and difficult process, and I really have to think through it, pulling on as many of the related memories as I can.
But here’s the funny thing. The fact that it is difficult, but I figure it out makes it all the more rewarding when I see I got me answer right and it feels like I got a big squirt of dopamine. So strangely I have found a way of turning my recent past into a game that is challenging and fun.
But as you can probably see is not just a matter of keeping my memories fresh. By doing this I am actually building a new mental structure, a map of my memories. And because I have to call on all of these related memories to answer that question, it means that those memories get rewritten back down together and they become organized in that map.
And so by creating flashcards, even on the mundane days allow me to know where the memorable days lie. And to illustrate this concept I’m actually building something new, I should mention that it’s actually more likely that I will just card from last September right than something that happened last April; I haven’t organized that information yet.
And lastly I’ll mention something that I want to see how it plays out. Maybe it’s too early to say, but I feel like this is affecting my sense of the passage of time. When I was in 10th grade in high school, I hear seemed it took like forever to complete. However hours I fill up the field and entire summer can pass by with me hardly noticing.
I don’t feel that way about the past 10 months. I can pick out semi individual events, and without this practice it would have been erased completely where our memories moved to other memories. And perhaps just by asking myself every day, what was unique and memorable about the day before that helping to slow down time.
So thank you very much.