This article is a mid-depth coverage of the available ways to use a smartphone to augment your memory. It leans heavily on Evernote, the most popular data-collecting and organizing application that′s also available on most platforms.
Standing in the aisle at the hardware store, you’re looking at the bins full of threaded pipe of various lengths, and you struggle to remember whether you needed a 6″ pipe or an 8″ pipe. Unfortunately, you can’t remember, so you purchase both and plan on returning the one you don’t use. Of course, if you’re like most of us, you’ll forget, and the unused piece of threaded pipe will gather dust in a drawer or on a workbench shelf.It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Modern technology offers us tools to assist (if not improve) our memories – and you probably carry one of the best around with you all the time! There are quite a few ways we can use our smartphones to backstop our fallible human memories.
Smartphones have cameras, keyboards, note books – all items that can be used in an ad-hoc capacity to augment our memories. You can snap a picture of the parts you need to replace when working on the sink, or jot down the items you need to pick up at the store – though sometimes a few photographs are much quicker than typing on the screen of the smartphone. Snapping a couple of pictures of the refrigerator door and shelves and you can refer to them while shopping to see what’s missing. Snap a quick picture of the ink cartridges in your printer when you head to the store to pick up Cyan and Gray cartridges. With most current phones – like the iPhone – you can zoom in enough to read the actual model numbers on the cartridges. Meet a new business associate? Shoot a picture of their business card and save it for future reference.
Applications offer you the ability to move beyond these basic functions – some designed with this specific use in mind. One of the most popular ones is “Evernote”. Evernote has been around for a few years and is supported on nearly every platform – PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. Evernote’s motto is “Remember Everything”. Evernote helps you capture, organize, and keep information of all types, from images to scanned documents, PDFs, and even handwritten notes. You can write out a note – an idea, a list, anything – and snap a picture of it with your iPhone or Android device, uploading it to Evernote, where it will be analyzed so that you can search for it by textual content. You can also upload the picture of the business card you took to Evernote, where it will perform optical character recognition, making your business card collection accessible for text search!
Evernote’s usefulness goes well beyond being a simple notebook for daily tasks, however. It allows you to sort items into notebooks and tag them to make them easier to find. Every item you commit to storage is retrievable on any device, as well, so a note you type at your computer is accessible from your iPhone. Want to remember that recipe you just found for Eggplant Parmesan? Clip the page to Evernote. Then, the next time you stop at the store on the way home from work, you can refer to your clipping to see what ingredients you need to make it for dinner. Got a new refrigerator? Snap a picture of the model plate, and in six months when you stop at the hardware store to pick up a filter, you can show the guy in appliances what the model number is. Want to keep track of your diet? Snap a picture of everything you eat and tag it “food diary”. Then sort by day and you’ve got a visual diet diary!
Evernote isn’t the only application for this sort of usage. Memonic is a similar app that provides an overlapping but not identical feature set, as is Yojimbo.There are also quite a few applications for taking notes. Many of these are targeted at iPads or other tablets, and often allow you to write on the screen with your finger or a special stylus. These provide note-taking ability for times when you’re trying to remember a lot of information that’s coming at you rapidly, such as a lecture, sermon, or client meeting. Many of these can export directly to Evernote or other organization application, making their content available on all platforms. Evernote adds to their functionality by performing handwriting recognition on your notes and allowing you to search them textually!
If taking notes isn’t your style, you can still “remember” lectures and meetings using an audio recording. You can save it for later review in your audio library, and organize your recordings manually. You can also add the recording to the organizing apps mentioned herein – where you can add ‘tags’ to it so you can find it again. All of the applications mentioned here support tags for all file types. A ‘tag‘ is a phrase or word that is attached to a file to help you find it again. For instance, you might tag an audio recording of a meeting with the client’s name, the service offered, and the outcome of the meeting. All of the apps allow you to search by date, as well, without an explicit tag. This way you could search for, say, all meetings with that client from the prior month.
Remembering at a time or place is another task that smartphones are uniquely suited for. Both Android devices and iOS devices support reminders based on time, on location, or both. For instance, with an iPhone, you can create a reminder such that it will remind you the next time you’re at home to take out the trash. Or, conversely, it can be set to remind you to pick up milk the next time you leave your house. Combined with voice recognition (Siri on iPhones, Google Now on Android), you can make your memory much better; press a button and tell your phone, “Remind me at five pm to take the trash out.” It’s just that simple! At 5:00 pm your phone will alert you, showing a dialog box that says “Take out the trash.”
If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated because you forgot something – whether it was picking up the milk at the store, or your niece’s birthday, or the name of the client you met with last night – your smartphone can help. It can become a useful personal assistant that will remind you of things you’d normally forget, produce the notes from an important meeting, or remember your license plate number for you. It can remind you to take out the trash or to pick up diapers on your way home from work. Check out the applications mentioned here, and in no time at all you’ll be on your way to doing a better job of remembering!