Me, my brain and my smartphone: a cyborg utopia

Posted by in Productivity

Me, my brain and my smartphone: a cyborg utopia

The story of how one man turbocharged his creativity, productivity and energy by outsourcing his brain to the cloud. Yes, Captain Obvious, it’s about me. And you can count me very surprised if you don’t want to do the same after reading this.


Step one: realization


I’ve long since discovered that, despite having entertained a certain level of delusion about this for the first three decades of my life, there are limits to how much information my brain can hold – whether it’s something I just want to know, or something I must remember to do. Not only that: my view on how much information I want to hold has changed drastically. Obviously, this is less of a discovery than it is a realization (it’s pretty hard to come up with something that’s brand new these days):


“Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting something go every day.” -Zen Proverb


I first found out about this when I had to step out of my comfort zone and was given responsibility for projects that didn’t have anything correlation at all with things I had been interested in all my life – computers, mobility and general geekery. Suddenly, I no longer had years upon years of prior experience to build upon when I tried to remember something. You see, when you’re already an expert in a subject, you seldom realize that most of the “new” stuff you’re learning can be framed upon existing knowledge in such a manner that, in a sense, you are recording changes more than committing wholly new information.


My initial reaction, since I was comfortable in my role as a biped encyclopedia in all matters relevant to me, was to… buckle down and cram it, exam-style. Yes, I know – how very intelligent. But I thought I could, because I’d spent most of my life easily recording changes rather than committing wholly new information. The result? I got by well enough – but nowhere near as well as I was used to. Which was utterly frustrating.


Fortunately for me, however, this realization took place amidst several others in where I reconsidered vital aspects of my life and how I wanted to live it. I was making changes to the left and to the right, and this became another project – and ultimately turned into a love story about me, my brain and my smartphone.


A cyborg utopia


Having already scoured a vast number of productivity resources on- and offline, I knew I was looking for an electronic note taking solution – and I already had the beginnings of a solution in Microsoft OneNote, which I had been using to store text-based reference information for some time. I had many reasons to like it: excellent organization, superb sync and share capabilities on the Windows platform and adequate search. Alas, as I ramped up my use, it proved to be inadequate on several counts: without going into detail, half-baked cloud synchronization, poor PDF handling and lack of a proper mobile client with two-way synchronization were reasons to look for something else.


Thus, I set out on a quest to find an application that held the best possible combination of features and ease of use – something that would just work everywhere, take everything I threw at it and easily regurgitate it when commanded to do so. After several failed attempts, I finally landed on Evernote. I’d tried it before, but it wasn’t as evolved then – and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t love on second sight. Like any partner, it’s not perfect, but I can live with the very few flaws it presents for my particular situation.


Now, Evernote is on all my PCs, regardless of platform, and on my mobile device. It serves as my peripheral brain, holding anything from bus schedules to receipts to insurance documents, interesting articles, graphical clippings, notes on how to configure XBMC, recipes and an unholy amount of information on anything else that I just don’t need to remember on a daily basis. If I want to input into it, I can usually get there in less than 10 seconds, regardless of where I am. If I want to look something up, I use its relatively powerful search features.


It’s not a direct brain-to-bits interface, but the concept itself is amazing: I hardly have to remember anything that I don’t want to commit to muscle memory.


The only thing I don’t use it for – which I know some people do, despite Evernote not being built to handle it – is task management. For that, I use MyLifeOrganized, which operates on the same principle as as Evernote: it’s powerful yet flexible, keeps all of my tasks in sync like a charm across several PCs and my mobile device. Similar to Evernote, I can input and extract information from it in a matter of seconds. It even reminds me about things at the appropriate time, or in the appropriate context, or – soon – at the appropriate location due to my GPS-powered mobile device.


The Stepford Mnemonic


Combined, these two applications represent a cross between Johnny Mnemonic and The Stepford Wives, easily freeing up 80% of my brain capacity (this may not be an accurate scientific measurement, but it’s how I feel). And because of this, the world feels like a wholly different place. Coupled with proper techniques for enhanced productivity and information management, I can easily pick the task that will yield the maximum output and work on it with complete focus. When I’m interrupted, I can quickly note down anything of value and return to what I was doing in a split second. My creativity has spiked – likely because there are more brain cycles available for background tasks.


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the whole point. Regardless of your methods, taste or preference, externalizing information frees up capacity in those poor, overworked brains of ours. Courtesy of technology, we now have ubiquitous access to not only information, but our very own personal information – negating needless memorization. This is what Evernote and MyLifeOrganized do for me, and in return they have my eternal gratitude.


Amusingly, though, the hardest part of being a cyborg is that I’m always required to consciously select these applications when I want to remember something. Why? Because they’re not the path of least resistance: my brain is. “Ten seconds to input something into Evernote? Pfft – I can do that in a tenth of a second”, it says. And it can. For a while, at least. Somewhat imperfectly. Using up valuable resources. This is the equivalent of quickly stuffing that cardboard box in the closet because it’s easy – for then having to spend half an hour cursing and muttering under your breath a few days later, because you want something that’s further in and you’ve realized that those shortcuts you made earlier… well, they weren’t shortcuts at all.


This post, then, is essentially a report from someone who figured out a better way to do memory, and a recommendation that you – as the yanks so charmingly put it – “haul ass” and join me. It’s heaven over here.