Some people were born with photographic memories. They can recall random facts and obscure details instantly.
But the rest of us need to augment our memories by taking notes, making lists and keeping files. Does that make sense anymore?
With all the technology changes we’ve all seen in the past few decades, we rarely stop to think about how old ways of doing things bias our thinking and hold us back from taking full advantage of new technologies.
We write things down mostly because it’s a habit. For centuries, pens, pencils, typewriters and, later, computer keyboards were our best option for augmenting memory.
But now we have the ultimate memory-augmenting recording technology ever—Internet-connected cameras. All that’s needed now is a habit adjustment.
Here are three incredibly powerful examples that use mobile cameras to give you photographic memory—literally!
Nine is a camera-based visual to-do list for the iOS platform.
Let’s say you finish the milk, and want to remind yourself to buy some more. Just use the Nine app to take a picture of the empty carton, press an on-screen “check mark” that shows that it’s the picture you want to use and click done. Then you’ll be offered pre-set categories. In this case, you’ll tap “Buy.” This feature allows you to capture most reminders without typing a single word. Tap, tap, tap and you’re done.
It’s called Nine because it’s got nine pre-set to-do categories: do, go, buy, listen, watch, read, note, love and make.
Later, when you’re at the store, just look at your “Buy” list and you’ll see the empty milk carton (along with your other captured items). Each list shows part of the picture stacked on the screen. The memory about what to buy is instantaneous and visual.
Sometimes your reminders are more abstract and don’t lend themselves to pictures. In those cases, you can type a short reminder on top of the picture. One trick I use is just to take a picture of what I see in front of me and type the reminder on top.
The picture reminds me of the context or conversation or situation where I thought of the to-do item. Nine also automatically captures the location where you set the reminder, which often adds a helpful bit of context.
I’ve also found nine helpful for business travel. If you stay in dozens of hotels a year, rent multiple cars and do all the things that business travelers do, at some point you’ll forget what your hotel room number is, what your car looks like, where you parked your car in the airport garage and other such facts. Nine is a great app for capturing that information on the run. I put those photographic reminders into the “note” category.
This capturing of context has an interesting psychological effect on memory. You may notice, for example, that happy memories from years ago are usually strongest when you’ve got pictures of them. Having seen those pictures from time to time over the years helped you retain those pleasant memories in your brain, while the un-photographed memories are more easily forgotten.
That same phenomenon can be applied to your to-do list. By quickly scanning the pictures in Nine, you’ll keep these tasks in mind and remember them, even without referring to the app at the moment you need to remember.
Using pictures to create a to-do list is faster to capture, faster to recall, more appealing to interact with and enhances actual memory.
Make Your Memories Searchable With Evernote
One advantage words have over pictures for augmented memory is that they’re searchable. So the solution isn’t to capture only words. Instead, use a service that identifies the words in your pictures and makes them searchable—in other words, treat the text in pictures like text you type.
How to Use Cameras to Develop a Digital Photographic Memory
A great option for this is Evernote. Once you set up an account and install the iOS or Android app on your phone, you can use the app to take pictures of anything. These will be uploaded to Evernote’s servers and automatically scanned for any words that appear in the picture.
You can take pictures of your personal documents, bills, posters, signs, menus, whiteboards, product labels—anything you’d like to find later via search. It’s like having your own private Internet filled with personal details, which you can search with your own private Google.
This sounds simple, but there is actually a way to make it even simpler. I use an app from IFTTT called Do Camera, which is available for iOS and Android. The app lets you automate all kinds of tasks with your camera, including uploading images to Evernote.
Just install the app, choose the Evernote recipe and you’re good to go. Just pressing the button brings up the camera, and pressing the Evernote icon button takes the picture and uploads it to Evernote with one tap.
There’s no downside to uploading any number of pictures because they’ll be categorized by search. You can’t take too many. So when in doubt, capture everything.
Best of all, you can access these memories from most major smartwatches, including the Apple Watch.
If you’re ready to take it up a notch, an even more automated way to get a photographic memory is to wear a product called the Narrative Clip. It’s a tiny wirelessly connected camera you clip to your clothes. It takes snapshots constantly throughout the day—which gives you a rewind button for your life.
The product has been around for a while. But a much better version called the Narrative Clip 2 will become available for $199 in three or four months. You can pre-order it now.
The Narrative Clip 2 lets you set how often it takes pictures, say every minute or every 10 seconds.
It’s got an 8-megapixel camera and built-in WiFi. So when you’re at home or work or in range of some other friendly WiFi connection, the pictures are automatically uploaded to the cloud. It also connects to your phone via Bluetooth. A built-in GPS enables the clip to record the location of your photos. You get 30 hours from a charge, according to the company.
The idea of taking pictures constantly may sound strange and even excessive, but the intelligence applied on the back end makes it a really interesting way to augment normal memory. The service automatically sorts all the pictures into both “moments” and “highlights,” and you can sort and flip through these very quickly. You can also add captions, not only to individual pictures but also moments and highlights.
You can also choose any to share on social media or send off to your Evernote account.
The process of recording everything is called “lifelogging,” which is the ultimate way to augment your memory.
The three techniques I’ve talked about in this column mention three specific products. They’re the best product in each category of augmented memory of which I’m aware. But there are other products available, which you may decide you like better.
The real take-away is that you can use cameras to capture your “to do” list items instead of pen or keyboard, and by doing so capture them faster and with richer “data.” You can capture words with your camera and have them automatically converted into searchable text. And you can create a lifelog by taking pictures constantly.
All these approaches have powerful benefits and can enhance your ability to “remember” everything you always want to remember. You can have a photographic memory that is far beyond just remembering to scribble things down with a quill pen or the modern equivalent of typing it on your smartphone.
Just take a picture. And remember everything.