Remembering things requires an effort. Without much effort, we have a tendency to forget a major part of the learning we did. This was described in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus. According to his research loss of information is exponential. Which led Ebbinghaus to summarize part of his research with the forgetting curve.
One of the interesting aspects of forgetting is, that it is happening more when we lack stimuli assisting us in memorizing something. The main way for us to capture stimuli is our senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. They are the five traditionally recognized senses.
When I remember a piece of music, I’ll often remember the emotion that came along. When I read a book I’ll often remember on which area of the page information was located. Touching an object comes along with a felt structure, one I’ll connect with that object, making that object more tangible and thus memorable for me.
The digital world is one where I’m at a loss of most of these stimuli. For some reason, touching and seeing an invoice is more memorable than getting the digital version and stocking it somewhere. And this goes for quite a lot of information I save somewhere. The difference in stimuli between tangible and intangible is quite a remarkable one.
Out of experience, our capacity to remember where intangible or digital information is stored requires more effort than with tangible goods. The most effective solution I’ve encountered is to focus on our need for structure in these cases. By developing and designing a structure which works best for us (individually) we seem to be able to compensate for the lack of stimulus.
It’s worth considering to figure out how we structure information as a way to enhance our capacity to find our way in the digital world. It’s nothing new, as books have had tables of content for ages. But it is more challenging when we have to define or find the structure by ourselves.