Your brain is immense and is capable of some fantastic things. It starts working a long time before you are even born and only stops working, it seems, when you want to recall a vital piece of information – usually, embarrassingly, in front of other people. Luckily, though, the Internet is coming to the rescue and is extending our memories so that we can stop worrying about whether or not we can recall something.
Nowadays there are several online tools to help you remember anything and everything. There are simple devices, such as “bookmarks” and “favorites” that help you manage all those web sites and domain names you go back to repeatedly. These tools avoid you having to remember the details – you have allocated the memory task to your computer. You can even extend this function by using something like Xmarks which allows you to access your remembered web sites from any device, anywhere in the world.
You can also use something like Evernote, which lets you store web site information as well as notes, cuttings, pictures – anything you like really. You can tag each entry and search within items as well.
In the past, if you had rows and rows of photo albums you would need to remember roughly where each holiday snap was located if you wanted to show it to anyone. Now, you can leave all that to the likes of Flickr which will store all your pictures, sort them, tag them and enable you to forget every picture you ever took, safe in the knowledge that your “Internet memory” will do the work for you.
You don’t even have to try and remember phone numbers these days either; just click on a name in your mobile, on Skype or on your CRM program and the system recalls the number for you. Another memory task allocated to technology.
However, there is a massive problem with offloading much of our memory to the Internet and other technological items. Those systems can go wrong – and sometimes you can’t ever retrieve the information. Other than in conditions like amnesia, the forgetful human brain can continue to work in the background to recall items you thought you had forgotten.
For instance, have you ever been to a party, seen someone across the room and worried all evening as to why you remember their face. You think you have met before but cannot recall when. So, you go home puzzled only to be woken by your subconscious at 4am which has been busily working away on this problem all the time and has just found the answer. We often think the item is deleted from our memory, only to discover it has been tucked away in the inner recesses of our mind and the fantastic power of our subconscious has located the information.
That can’t happen with technology. Delete your Flickr account and the pictures and their tags are gone for ever. Remove all your items from Evernote? Bye bye to all that information as well. So, extended memories using the Internet still require us to remember something – passwords, avoiding the delete button and so on..! You can’t completely offload all your memory tasks to technology. There is also another problem – change. You “remember” a web page in a bookmark application like Xmarks, only to discover that the web site no longer exists, or the navigation structure has been altered giving you a lovely “404 error” message.
To the rescue comes iCyte, one of the most interesting online applications I have seen for quite a while. This is a bookmarking application at heart, but it allows you to store the bookmarks as complete page images, with tags and notes associated with them. That way, your bookmarks will be visible even if the web site itself is deleted. You will still be able to recall information that is no longer available online. The system also allows you to click through to the latest “live” version of the page, enabling you to check for updates.
The iCyte system also enables you to store web pages as “projects”. This is great for research on specific topics, allowing you to collect together a variety of web sites on a particular theme and keep them in one place. But, there’s an added twist to this; you can make these projects private or public. If you have a public project you can share it – and other people can contribute web pages to it as well, if you wish. In other words, you can create collaborative research projects with all the information stored permanently, even if the original web sites themselves are deleted.
To get an idea of what’s possible, I have started a public iCyte project on Twitter. This lists several web pages which are useful to people who want to get the best out of Twitter. It shows the pages in thumbnail form and if you click on any thumbnail you can see the complete image of the page – with all the links preserved; it’s not just a picture…! If you want to help me develop this project, let me know and I will add you as a contributor which means you can help build up this list of useful web pages for Twitter users.
I understand that iCyte has several new developments up its sleeve, which will make it even more useful, particularly in the social and sharing sense. But as a memory tool, it extends the bookmarking concept, making it much more practical in the long term. After all, how many of your bookmarks that are deep down in your list actually still work? With iCyte the information will always be there. It will be rather like the subconscious of your Internet memory.