Memory is a fascinating mechanism. Electric currents running through biological matter draw input from sensitive organs and store anything from scents and pictures and all the way to logical conclusions. It’s the simplest time-machine implementation and it’s embedded in our brains, allowing us to travel back in to our history.

Commonly, it’s divided to short-term memory and long-term memory. Short-term memory is the working memory. It holds temporary but currently-crucial information retrieved from sensors, long-term memory or the result of a mental process. It is estimated that short-term memory is capable of holding up to seven items at any given time. As with many other areas in life, that number is magical and quite stubborn at keeping its status quo. To that end, common memory improvement techniques focus on methods of getting around that number instead of increasing it. A method I affectionately call “divide and conquer” suggests grouping items and memorizing the groups instead of the items themselves, so that more items can be memorized. It’s actually an expansion of the very basic naming method. Complicated items can be easily memorized when named — the very basic of all languages; allowing the communication of complicated matters with simple words.

One of the most obvious implementations of these methods is known simply as “list”. By numbering and even naming large chunks of data, information could be efficiently conveyed and referenced. Under this principal books are divided into chapters, rules are presented as a list of do and don’ts, everything is divided to magical three items, and complicated ideas are abstracted and listed so that they may serve as a fertile ground for even greater ideas.

The problem with popular and useful methods is their wide abuse. Lately, I’ve witnessed an abundance of articles containing nothing but a list with sparse content and a very thin thread holding the bullets together. To help combat this epidemic, I hereby propose my list of list-don’ts.

  1. While a very good memory technique, a list without any content is worthless. Forging pointless data into a list will not breath life into it. At the very best, it’d help the pointless data being pointlessly forgotten.
  2. Lack of good transition between paragraphs qualifies for more content or some transitional devices and not a list.
  3. Bullets before the punch line won’t necessarily make it funnier. It will, however, make the journey leading to the punch line a boring one.
  4. There are rare cases where a list genuinely qualifies. There is no need to overstate this by noting it in the title.
  5. When already writing a list, keep it short and to the point. Three, seven, ten and thirteen are nice magical numbers. That’s not a good enough reason to pad lists.

4 thoughts on “Countdown

  1. With regard to the first half of the post, I tend to just remember one item in short term memory: an integer specifying the length of the list. One int is easy to remember, and it provides a sanity check when later calling up the contents of the list via associative memory.

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