Outboard memory

I started taking photographs of my whiteboard a couple of years ago. I use the whiteboard as a thinking tool. Start with what you think you know then, pen in one hand and eraser in the other, you go through a hundred iterations in about fifteen minutes. With ideas, it’s deliver early, deliver often.

20060802 008

I became reluctant to clean the whiteboard, realising that I had not fully exploited the ideas that were being generated. But in a shared office this is anti-social at the very least. When is it OK to erase somebody else’s thought stream? When it’s been there a day, a week? It’s a tricky social problem.

The answer for me was to photograph the whiteboard when the burst of creative energy had run its course. I put the photographs in dated folders on my computer. Ideally this would have been a taggable repository like Flickr, but my computer at work is a pre-Vista PC so the tagging option isn’t easily achievable.

Disruptive device

Now my screensaver is simply a slideshow of pictures from my computer, including (almost coincidentally) the whiteboard pictures. The unexpected side-effect is that I am exposed every day to my thoughts from the last two years. For me this a great thing. I don’t have one of those minds that can remember lists. In other words, my mind is almost stateless.

The whiteboard photographs act like session cookies, enabling me to remember where I am on a much wider range of topics than I could without them. It seems like the external artifact is an intrinsic part of the mental process. The memories of those thoughts are there but I cannot unlock them without the visual key.

I’ve put some of the photos here so I can refer to them in discussions and possibly blog posts.


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