[req] Perfect Recall

I have a big problem with keeping track of the media I consume. With all the albums I download and listen to, and all the shit I read online, I’m oppressed by this feeling that it’s all just running through me without being digested or processed. It’s over-stimulation, I end up with all this shit in my head that I don’t know what to do with. I could of course just limit my intake, but I’m addicted to media and I don’t feel like changing any time soon. Plus there’s got to be a way I can apply all this stuff.

I suppose traditionally that’s what the blog format is meant for, to just kind of shit out everything you consume in the form of links and video embeds. But really that’s more like just “taking notes” at a lecture with a cassette recorder, see what I mean? That’s just transcription. I need something to do with it all. This problem is addressed to some extent by my meticulous music library curation with foobar, and my desperate calls recently for somebody to improve on the way we manage our music.

I think a prevailing problem is that of linearity; I can write a post on here, then another post, then another, and they appear chronologically in a line. Tagging and categorizing helps to make the content on here a little less linear, but it’s still not satisfying enough. I mean what I want is to be able to have some very loose, scrapbook-y interface where I can just kind of swim through collages of things: albums, journal entries. Snapshots of various aspects of certain time-periods. Paper is free-form enough to serve a purpose like this, but notebooks aren’t searchable or easily rearrangeable, and aren’t as ubiquitous as the web.

I actually am working on a new category in here that will present entries a little differently, to accommodate the kind of note-taking that I’m talking about, but even that’s too manual. Why can’t I, for instance, while listening to a D+ album in foobar, click something that will allow me to leave a note on it? The note will be linked to the album, to the song, to the artist, and to today’s date. Later that note will turn up in searches, and whenever I focus on this song/album/artist again. There are a couple solutions for this but all of them are inelegant.

It’s almost as though this whole paradigm of nodes needs to be re-thought. Nodes don’t adequately mimic the way we think, our brains aren’t that compartmentalized. When we are consciously focused on one thing, our attention is also inadvertently directed towards related things. For instance, when you think of an apple, you’re not likely thinking only of the qualities of an apple; a small if undetectable part of you is thinking about Snow White, thinking about Genesis, thinking about pears. And when does something like an apple evolve from a confluence of impressions — their taste, their color, their shape — into something as “node”-like as “an apple”? Is an apple categorized as “fruit” (which is itself a subcategory of “food”), and tagged as “crunchy,” “juicy,” “sweet,” etc.? Not exactly. And not to mention “an apple”’s faint associations with every experience you’ve had with one. Should those experiences be tagged “involved:apple”?

Simply put I guess it’s just a problem of memory. When I listen to an album for the first time, for instance, I never want to forget when I listened to it and what I thought of it. Yet I think it happens more often than not that when I listen to something, I forget sooner than later what I thought of it, or even that I listened to it at all.

A real-world example: I downloaded the new Evangelicals record some months ago. I listened to it once, and from what I can remember, I liked it a fair amount. But I never touched it again. I forgot they existed.

When they opened for Frog Eyes months later, I barely recognized the name. I seriously believed that I had only heard their name, but didn’t have a clue what they sounded like. It wasn’t until I was at the bar ordering a drink overhearing them play “Another Day” that it clicked. Since then I’ve listened to the album half a dozen or more times and found that I really enjoy it.

So, that’s a problem. What’s the solution?

I suppose I could have rated some of their songs when I first heard them. Looking at them now in my foobar, I see that “Another Day” is tagged with 4/5 stars. But when did I do that? I don’t know! I shouldn’t have to worry about these things.

What about a world in which, on some day a couple weeks after I first heard that record, I opened my media player and it presented me with that album, as if to ask me, “Hey, you listened to this album for the first time a few weeks ago, right after you downloaded it. You didn’t rate it; what did you think of it? Want to listen to it now to remind yourself?” It’s not that far-fetched an idea. But, again: media players are largely just spreadsheets.

What about all those movies I see thanks to Netflix? What happens to them years after I watch them? It’s as though I didn’t watch some of them at all. I remember seeing Alphaville sometime in 2005, for instance, but other than some vague imagery I’ve retained, I have no idea what that movie was like. Should I have written myself a short review of it after I watched it? Where would I have put it? What is the proper receptacle for that?

Somehow I’ve been trained to think that I should be not only capable of, but in fact actively thinking about everything I’ve experienced all the time. That’s sick, isn’t it? Is that a product of the internet? Over-stimulation? Is perfect recall too much to ask?

7 Replies to “[req] Perfect Recall”

  1. bryskt says:

    Hey, I’m really interested in your ideas about this kind of stuff. I completely agree with you, and I don’t really have a good solution to this either. I think maybe you could try using Twitter for this. Just post “This Evangelicals album is great!” or whatever after you hear it, and then it’ll be there. I’m not really happy with this solution though because the information isn’t that easy to retrieve later, but it’s a start, I think. (I don’t actually use Twitter myself, though.)

    This is something I’m definitely going to keep thinking about. It’s very interesting. I’m also interested in developing the sort of music player you’ve talked about previously. If you were to describe in detail all the features of your dream music player, I might actually do it. :)

    By the way, have you used the new Genius sidebar in iTunes 8? What do you think of it? (I haven’t, yet, but it looks like it may be interesting.)

  2. Jay says:

    I describe in some detail what I’m looking for in a music player in these two posts. I think the swiftest avenue for getting these features into a media player is via Songbird’s SDK, but I lack the skillz.

    I haven’t tried iTunes’ Genius feature yet, but its methodology is horribly disappointing. That it warrants mention at an Apple Event is sad. This functionality is primitive, and should have existed years ago.

    What does excite me is the recent announcement by Microsoft that they’re working on something called MixView, which generates a cloud-like view of your library, clustering artists and albums by similarity. It makes me confident that in a couple years some real strides might be made in desktop music browsing, though progress still appears to be running at a snail’s pace.

    If you really are interested in brainstorming a Songbird extension with me, feel free to email me. Or if you have a team of developers and some wealthy investors I’d be happy to talk with them.

  3. katie t. says:

    About that last part: The more we think about something, the easier it is to remember. So scanning blogs on the internet doesn’t stick too well in the memory. And your mind gets lazy – I’ve noticed after spending time on the internet it’s harder to stay focused on a book. 

    Also, I don’t know if this is on PCs but on my MacBook when you select an icon and press command+i (get info) the first thing in the info box is “spotlight comments,” which I use to type in descriptions of images I may want to find later. And so when I am looking for a picture of food for a blog entry I just go to spotlight in the top right and type in food, and there are all my files related to food. The spotlight results (which come up in a drop-down, with the option of seeing ‘more info’ in a window) are categorized by ‘top hit’ (the most accurate result) and then applications, documents, music, pictures, etc. Sometimes in real life if am looking for something, I find myself thinking about ‘spotlighting’ or ‘command+f’ (find) and it’s frustrating not having real-life indexed as well as my laptop. This sounds like the frustration you experience as well. 

    I heard a segment on NPR a couple months ago about medicine one day achieving a device or something that could allow humans to have perfect recall, a sort of spotlight search or ‘find’ function for one’s own mind. The speaker was asking callers if they would want that, were it possible. It seems like it would be very handy, of course, but it is a lot of information. Searching would be good, I think, but having perfect recall “on” all the time would just be overwhelming. Your mind has filters for a reason. 

    The possibility is there – I once read (in ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’) about a woman who had a stroke which caused her to see and hear scenes from her childhood as vividly as if she were actually there. But at the same time, she was aware that she was in the doctor’s office talking to the doctor. It just goes to show that every little thing we experience is locked away in the unconscious mind, and it’s just a matter of accessing what you want. The brain merely chooses what information is most relevant as a way to lighten the cognitive load.

  4. Jay says:

    Holy crap…I’m gonna have to rearrange some things on this blog if people are gonna keep leaving comments like that.

    I use Google Desktop, which is like Spotlight in some ways I think. It not only indexes your hard drive but also tracks your web history, so anything I’ve read on the internet is searchable from my desktop. (Actually it doesn’t index browsing in Opera, which I’ve been using for months now.)

    I’m also reminded by your comment of a Borges story called “Funes, the Memorious” about a guy who is tormented by the exactitude and exhaustiveness of his memories:

    We, in a glance, perceive three wine glasses on the table; Funes saw all the shoots, clusters, and grapes of the vine. He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on the 30th of April of 1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marbled grain in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only once, and with the lines in the spray which an oar raised in the Rio Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebracho. He told me: I have more memories in myself alone than all men have had since the world was a world. And again: My dreams are like your vigils. And again, toward dawn: My memory, sir, is like a garbage disposal.

    And, in fact, somebody has blogged about this story as an allegory for digital information overload before.

    I’m sure it would actually be distressful to be thinking about everything all the time as I described, but nevertheless I sometimes feel like I do want that. When I was moving after graduating college, my car was broken into and robbed in an alley while I slept and I lost my laptop (with no backups), dozens of files and notebooks, and almost a hundred CDs. At first I felt an overwhelming loss, but later (after insurance replaced it all, heh) I felt strangely relieved to be rid of a lot of the information I had been keeping. One of these days it might do me good to completely purge my Google Reader subscriptions, email inbox, del.icio.us bookmarks — even my hard drive. I just don’t have the discipline to sort the crucial from the disposable.

    I have 554 starred articles in Google Reader, 131 bookmarks tagged “readlater” in del.icio.us, and 106 blog drafts on kbps. I guess more important than “remembering everything” is just doing something with every piece of information I consider to be significant, preferably through synthesis rather than mere recitation or transcription, like I said. But even this is probably hoping for too much.

  5. Sumner says:

    No fantastic allegorical metaphorical response here, just wanted to tell you I really enjoyed the post.

  6. katie t. says:

    Spotlight searches web history and IM conversations if you choose to save them.

    Doing something’ is important. If I had perfect recall I’d waste hours away each day just spending time with my memories. It could become an addiction, no different from today’s use of drugs to turn filters on/off in our brains to get different results from them.

  7. jef(f) says:

    tdj, this makes me want to return to the suf. These are the kind of concerns that I can’t convince anybody to discuss with me. I often find myself more concerned with the organization or format of information than the content of the information. That said, I don’t have anything to contribute to this.

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