Why Remember, With Wikipedia On Your Phone?

I have a copy of Wikipedia on my phone. Why should I try to remember anything? So I can think about it. But Wikipedia can help! We need to stop pitting our memories against our info technology, like they’re in some kind of cage match.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has come true. With a free program called Aarddict and a big enough SD card, you can keep a copy of Wikipedia on your phone.

(Actually, the images aren’t included yet, but that’s purely a function of bandwidth and space. In a few years, you’ll have the images too.)

You might be immune to such wonders by now. Maybe you’ve had the entire Internet on your phone for years. But that cell connection is never completely reliable. For me, having an actual copy crosses a new threshold. As long as I keep the thing charged, I can look up almost anything, anywhere, even a super-villain’s cave.

And this is … awesome. Seriously.

Pocket Libraries Can Help Us Think

Surprised? You might be expecting Mr. Memory Guy to launch a tirade about the Dangers of Cell Phones Making Us Stupid. And I have been known to do that.

These days, I’m rethinking that approach. I think we should all have Wikipedia, and all the world’s classics, and probably even more, in our pockets.

Because we can’t remember “everything”. We can’t come within a billion miles of that insane goal.

But we can think. And these pocket libraries can help us think.

I want to say that again, because it’s taken me awhile to realize this. Pocket libraries can help us think. They just can’t replace thinking.

Your Memory Vs. Your Phone? No.

We need to stop pitting our memories against our info technology, like they’re in some kind of cage match. It’s like pitting your stomach against your refrigerator.

Your refrigerator gives you instant access to strawberries even when the ground is frozen stiff. But no one forgets that critical shade of difference between storing strawberries and eating them.

The more gigantic the collection of facts we have at our instant disposal, the more we realize that thinking and remembering are so much more than mere fact retrieval.

Pull up a Wikipedia article on chemistry, physics, mathematics, or any advanced topic. How far do you get before you glaze over? All these “facts” are just words in a foreign language. The words mean nothing to you unless they can connect to something you already know. Something you … remember.

The Magic of Wikipedia

True, Wikipedia has a special magic here. The unfamiliar words link to a fuller explanation. With a few clicks, you can find that exquisite balance between what you already know and what you want to learn. You find exactly which wing of your mental labyrinth is unfinished, awaiting new construction. And you read more, exactly what you need to know, right there in your hand.

Which is all amazing. You can grow with a speed and precision that boggles the mind. You can construct a fantastic edifice, and the exact part you need keeps materializing in your hand.

But – and here’s where Mr. Memory Guy pipes up – what comes next?

And the Magic of Reflection

What happens after all reading? How long does your new construction last? If you try to think about this next week, will you have to start all over again?

The pocket library helps us take in information. But no technology can replace reflection.

When we reflect, we reorganize what we’ve learned. We make new connections. We turn raw information into ordered knowledge. We weave new data into our own utterly unique webs of thought experience.

In short, we think.

Do you have to keep everything? I don’t think so. If you forget 90% or 95% of a lengthy Wikipedia session, who cares? Throw the little fish back. What matters is whether you pop open the few oysters and find places for the pearls.

I used to think that Anki reviews could be used as triggers for this kind of reflection. Now, I’m not so sure.

I suspect that reflection is its own special activity. If I want to remember what I read, I need to schedule time to think about it. In a sense, it’s that simple.

Yes, the right tools and techniques will certainly make that reflection more powerful. But it begins with taking time to think.

Even a half hour a day would make a good start. One half hour, scheduled and set aside for deliberate thinking about what you’ve read and learned lately. It sounds so obvious … but who actually does it?

I’m game. How about you?