Our tech's lack of context awareness

There is something missing in our devices and applications. A massive layer that makes everything feel individual, static, and somewhat dumb. That layer is contextual memory.

Think about when you’re browsing something and you remember “where have I seen this before?”. You open up your browser history and start typing only to find nothing of value. The closest thing I’ve seen to this is Firefox’s test of the LaserLike app.

A permanent sidebar would scour the internet and find the most relevant thing you should go to next. Unfortunately, limitations in our technology and an overload of clickbait on the web, ruined the experience. That’s why it may be better to look inward than outward. “What have we seen?”, rather than “What should we see next?”

This problem isn’t limited to browsing the web. Even writing and reading notes is often confined to what you searched for, and not the context of what you’re looking for. Evernote tries to do something about this. It shows you notes that may be related to what you’re currently reading or writing — but I’ve never heard anything good about it.

We’re so focused on helping people discover new addictions, that we don’t bother with reinforcing what they’ve seen. That reflection and reinforcement is a core tenant of effective learning and creativity. The most prominent learners and creatives were avid note takers. With machines that have near infinite memory, why haven’t we all become master learners and creatives?

There may be technical limitations, but my concern is more that no one is even trying to do this at a scale big enough. The operating system owners (Microsoft, Apple, Google) certainly aren’t. When tools with a similar promise do come out, they end up being a walled off and focused on productivity (Evernote, OneNote, or OmniFocus). An app may be developed, but I don’t believe this will work without something more integrated — native OS implementation for example.

I have no answers currently, but how our machines improve the way we think and learn is very important. We’ve been in a mode for far too long that’s about entertaining and distracting, and it’s time we moved on.


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