Did you know that neuroscientists classify our memories into two different types? Procedural memory is for the things we do without conscious thought like eating, driving or riding a bike. Declarative memory is the conscious, intentional recollection of factual information and previous experiences. One of the main sub-categories of declarative memory is episodic memory, which is the memory of autobiographical events.
Episodic memories are important to our well-being. When we’re feeling low and in need of an emotional lift, it’s comforting to look back on some happy event in the past and share in that past feeling of happiness. However, as we get older the past gets bigger and it can be difficult to remember the details of an event in quite the way that we used to.
As you might expect, scientists have studied episodic memory extensively:
Episodic memories are consciously recollected memories related to personally experienced events. Episodic remembering is a dynamic process that draws upon mnemonic and nonmnemonic cognitive abilities in order to mentally reconstruct past experiences from retrieval cues.
Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, 2009
The key to success is the retrieval cues. Having something that we can use as a trigger to better remember a past event makes a huge difference to our episodic memories. So what are our retrieval cues in the modern world? Photographs are one of the more obvious triggers, but for many people, this means a collection of albums or assorted prints stored in an attic. Video is also a possibility, but older videos will be stored on tape and playing them back may not be a trivial exercise. Any old audio recordings will have the same problems.
When we reach the digital age, the problems are arguably worse. Chat conversations can beautifully encapsulate the contributions and feelings of multiple people, but how do you access them unless you go to the trouble of backing them up?
The reality is that retrieval cues might be vital, but they are scattered across a range of media and access formats, which is why I created the LifeStory of course.
Given that I developed the concept and the prototype, it was natural that I would use my own LifeStory as a test case. I was surprised to find that I needed to draw from lots of different places, including
- Family photographs, scanned digitally
- Videos I took of my family over a 20 year period
- Scanned documents from my school years
- Audio recordings of my grandparents
- Audio recordings of me playing guitar
- Recollections of my career
- Recollections of places I visited
- WhatsApp conversations between myself and my family
- SMS Text conversations
- A few Facebook posts
- Pinterest boards with my favourite movies and music
All of these things now exist in one place and are accessible at any time. While I have an iPad version, I also created a version for my iPhone, so no matter where I am I can quickly bring a smile to my face by dipping into one of the many memories that are stored there.