One of many tips for improving one’s creativity is to keep a notebook available to write down ideas as you get them. The rationale behind this is that if you don’t have something to record your idea in the moment you get it, you might forget it by the time you do have something to write it down on. It occurs to me that this might be another sense in which we are similar to computers.
RAM holds the current information that a program is working with, but it doesn’t hold on to it forever. Once the program has exited, the RAM it was using is (ideally) reclaimed by the operating system for use by other programs. If a program needs to keep information for the next time it executes, it will get written to the hard drive or to another form of persistence.
I imagine short-term memory as being very similar to RAM. The thoughts are in your head, but they aren’t going to stay there forever. Even long-term memory is not entirely reliable; the act of recalling something changes it slightly. So if our memory isn’t the best place to keep ideas for later, where should we keep them? In writing.
The act of reading words doesn’t change them. The letters which were printed may become illegible but they will never change. The information that those written words encode persists, and is the same every time you read it. The written word is how we have aggregated the collective information of our entire species with the accuracy and efficiency that we needed to make our social and technological advances.
One of my goals for 2010 is to write more things down and stop trying to keep so much in my head.
I’ll close this brief thought by quoting a blog post I read recently about writing:
The amount of information our brains can fit into our short term memory at once isn’t a lot. If you never have thoughts that require notes, then all your thoughts are small or unoriginal enough to fit into your tiny short term memory.
Writing allows you to record your short term memory into a format that you can examine and reflect upon, so you can suss out what makes sense, and how it makes sense, and then expand on the original seed. When you expand your thought all the way into a piece of coherent writing, it becomes complete. It would have been impossible for you to have that size of a thought without writing–your brain just isn’t powerful enough.